Two VERY handy sites, and making Coconut Butter

The internet is LOADED with too much information, so much that I have a hard time sifting. Let me sift a little for you. And hopefully, you’re not completely sick of white stuff in jars since I keep posting them. But don’t worry, real food is coming. I’m just setting the stage for future greatness, giving you the tools if you will, to make wonderful things soon.

So first, have you ever found yourself cleaning out your cupboard or pantry and realized you had three cans of veggie broth, or that jar of roasted red peppers you knew was back there had been tucked away for longer than you’d thought – like two years? Did you know that the best by date isn’t always the definitive date? Yes, you probably do, but I still have friends for whom this is new information and so, I share.

Still Tasty

StillTasty.com not only tells you how much longer your canned goods are good for (sometimes two or three years!), but your fruits and vegetables, and well, everything other edible in your kitchen. There is so much information on this site, you could spend days and still probably learn something new, or at least novel. I will confess, there are many items lacking, BUT the catalog is continually increasing.

So, if after checking StillTasty you find you probably shouldn’t use that tempeh that ended up in the back corner of your fridge for six months, there is yet another site I frequent. It is where I go when I realize I am missing what I THINK is a vital ingredient.

The Cook's Thesaurus

Unfortunately, the URL is www.foodsubs.com rather than its name, but I love the URL since it’s easier to remember when I’m looking for a substitute ingredient. It’s not as easy to navigate as I would like, but the search bar is pretty helpful. One of the best parts is that some recommended substitutes have how-to directions!

I wanted to make Shira’s brownies at InPursuitofMore, but I did not have nor had I ever made coconut butter. So I foodsubbed it. This is what I found:

coconut butter  To make your own:  Toast grated coconut over low heat in a frying pan until lightly browned, then whirl it (while still hot) in a blender until it has the consistency of a smooth paste.

There were no pictures, but hey, those are pretty straight-forward directions and I’m not as dumb as I might look sometimes. So, I tossed some shredded, unsweetened, dried coconut and did just that. Heated it and popped it in the Vitamix and started it running. I was surprised by how it transformed from a pile of dried coconut into a creamy, SUPER-HOT, fatty quasi-liquid. It almost had the consistency of what happens when you mix cornstarch and water – a liquid-solid. It was also very much like butter (though very coconutty) and not anything I imagined should have worked.  As it cooled, it hardened much like coconut oil and works like butter in recipes. Cool, huh?

I have since repeated the procedure with more precise measurements to be more helpful. I know I would have appreciated a bit more info when I first tried it. I don’t think a regular blender could handle this, and I recommend a VitaMix because I found the tamper VERY useful. A BlendTec definitely has the power, it just requires more stopping and starting as you stir the contents.

Here are the details in a better form.

Homemade Coconut Butter
Adapted from Cook’s Thesaurus
Yield: 2 cups

4 c. shredded, unsweetened, dried coconut

Over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet, allow coconut to LIGHTLY toast, stirring or flipping frequently to keep from burning. (The goal is primarily to get it hot, but a bit of nuttiness from the toasting improves the flavor.) Quickly add the coconut to power blender, and turn it on and up. Using the tamper if you have one, push the coconut into the blades, adjusting blender speed in order to keep the coconut moving. You may need to stop and start, especially if you don’t have a tamper; pulsing it and shaking the jar will be helpful! This will take a few minutes and the contents will get HOT, as they reach maximum smoothness. The coconut will start moving itself as it begins to liquefy, at which point you’re close. Stop occasionally and check consistency – it should be quite smooth.

When it’s done, it’s done! Pour into a clean container and allow to cool at room temperature. If you’re really ambitious, pour into a muffin tin to get ½ cup portions because it’s pretty tough to break up after it cools.

 

Raw Vegan Sour Cream

cute nephew, right?

My nephew is almost 12 now, (5 in the picture above), but when he was 2 and more than a handful (no, seriously, he was tough), we lived in his basement. Sometimes, to give his parents a break, we’d have him down to visit and he’d help us make dinner. One of our common meals was guacamole and chips – super healthy, I know, in which we used just a “dollop” of sour cream.  My husband had a bit of a love affair with sour cream, so he’d always lick the spoon afterward. One time my cute nephew said, “I wike it, Nutsy!” anticipating a taste too, and so we gave him a little spoonful to try. Cute nephew gleefully took said spoonful into his mouth and immediately thereafter did that kid thing of just letting the food fall out of his mouth and said, “I don’t wike it, Nutsy!”

raw sour cream mimi kirk

We all miss sour cream just a little. I am not saying we’d take a spoonful like we used to, but it’s such a useful and versatile ingredient in baking, cooking, and adding just that little bit of tang to things like baked potatoes and burritos. I haven’t been happy with any of the store-bought ones, nor any of the recipes for tofu ones. So, a couple of weeks ago, I picked up Mimi Kirk’s “Live Raw” at the library (and one day I’ll own it) and flipping through found a recipe for sour cream.

mushroom stroganoff strawberry broken heart cake

So, I made it. And I didn’t soak my cashews because I have a Vita-Mix and that’s its job. And the second batch was better than the first for reasons I couldn’t tell you. And I used it a week and a half later and it was still fantastic – I think the probiotics actually make a big difference in curing it. And I only took a few pictures because I’m lame like that. But I have since used it in mushroom stroganoff (angels singing above), a strawberry coffee cake (I made two in three days and ate both of them), and topped potatoes (so good with chives!), burritos, and tacos happily with it. And Mimi said I could share it – thanks Mimi, you’re beautiful!

Raw Vegan Sour Cream

Ingredients:

1 c. cashews, soaked for 4 hours (optional if you have a power blender)
½ t. probiotics, for curing – I emptied two New Chapter probiotic capsules
1 t. light miso paste
¼ t. salt
3 T. lemon Juice
¾ – 1 c. water

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth and creamy, adding more water if necessary. Place in a covered container and store in the refrigerator. Mixture thickens as it chills. To thin, add more water. To thicken add 2 T. Irish moss paste. Use anywhere you would sour cream.

 

Tasty Tuesday Series – Lemon Essential Oil Saved my Shorts

It’s still Tasty Tuesday and I thought you may or may not want to know that apparently there isn’t much that essential oils aren’t good for. I just removed melted crayon from my entire dryer drum, AND four pairs of lululemon running shorts with a bottle of lemon essential oil. For Reals.

There were other clothes in the load too, but not clothes that made me want to cry if they were ruined. Now, my dryer drum looks like new, and a pesky piece of gum that was stuck there forever is gone too. AND my lululemon shorts are redeemed and lemony fresh! Sigh….

Update: In my glee I didn’t give you the method, which you will thank me for if you ever need it! Method: For the dryer I put the lemon essential oil directly on the crayon stains in the dryer and rubbed them off with a clean DRY washcloth. It was pretty much like a magic eraser, but the whole dryer was blue, so I was there for a while and switched out cloths a couple of times. IMPORTANT: wash out your dryer with a bucket of soapy water and a washcloth after you do this, since oils are flammable and you don’t want to start a house fire over a little crayon conundrum. For the shorts I put the oil directly onto the crayon marks, scrubbed them a bit with a DRY toothbrush, then let them soak in a solution of hot water, baking soda and laundry detergent for 30 minutes before re-laundering them.

Pit Paste and Not as Good as Amanda’s Banana Muffins

It’s Tasty Tuesday and it’s a good thing I’m a runner. Otherwise I might need therapy 😉
It’s been a rough week and I feel like I’m living the lyrics of two Bob Dylan songs. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and The Times They are A Changin’. Thankfully I’m recovering and my life is moving in the A Changin’ direction 😉

Through the craziness came a hilarious voice mail from my friend Christina who lives in Phoenix: “I’m making the Mexican Mountain off the blog, and I didn’t have nutritional yeast so I was just going to use rapid rise bread yeast, but I decided that maybe that wasn’t a good idea and left it out all together” Blah ha ha! (I did call her, and told her that yes, bread yeast in the recipe wouldn’t have been terribly tasty). Happy Birthday on Sunday Christina!!! Love your guts!

Another good one is that after emailing out the awesomest Scott Jurek article ever from Runner’s World, Eat Vegan and Run to my brother Curtis, I get a text this morning: “Toying w/ plant based diet. What is your opinion on nutritional yeast? Do you use TVP? “ I never thought I would grin ear to ear so much over the words TVP and Nutritional Yeast. Okay so really it was the “plant-based diet” words that made me grin, but they always do….Speaking of plant-based diet,  I’m participating in an awesome Virtual Vegan Potluck on Saturday. Come join me?

Here are some other things that have made me grin: making my own deodorant. Yup, you heard me, but I’m not joining the stinky club, thank you very much, in fact, my husband says the deodorant smells like cake frosting. Thanks to the ladies and mysisterspantry.wordpress.com and Annie at anunrefinedvegan.com for inspiring me to finally ditch Secret (the antiperspirant) and the possibility of aluminum neurotoxicity. Did I mention that when I shaved my under-arms this week, it was the first time I can remember not having to battle with the leftover waxy residue? Radical. This is adapted from these recipes here and here. Use quality therapeutic grade essential oils. You don’t want to use the ‘aromatic only’ grade on your body.

Somer’s Pit Paste

6 T. Arrowroot or Cornstarch
2 T. Baking Soda
2-3 T. Melted Coconut Oil, I used virgin coconut oil, hence the cake frosting smell
10 drops rose hip oil (optional, but very nice and healing to freshly shaved pits)
10 drops melaleuca essential oil (antibacterial, antiseptic)
10 drops eucalyptus (antibacterial)
10 drops lavender essential oil (anti-fungal, antimicrobial, calming)
5 drops wild orange essential oil (antiseptic, plus it just smells delicious)
 1 drop peppermint oil (antibacterial and antiseptic)
Method: Gently melt coconut oil on stove-top in small sauce pan. How much you will want to use depends on how solid you want your deodorant. Remove from heat. Add arrowroot and baking soda, then add essential oils and rose hip oil. I put mine in a little glass mason jar, but my husband wanted his in his old deodorant container, so of course I obliged. Put it in the fridge to firm it up before use. Now we both smell like cake frosting. Mmmm.
Update: This does not store well in a deodorant container when your house temperature is above 72 degrees. It will get all melty, so probably best to keep it in a glass jar. You could also attempt to up the arrowroot and baking soda, let me know if you have success with that if you try it.
Things that make me grin part 2: Amanda and I having parallel lives. Now I have to promise Amanda that I really don’t have a hidden camera at her house and that I’m not stalking her, despite our both making deodorant on the same day, reading Scott Jurek articles on the same day (her’s was in Outside Magazine) and making Banana Muffins on the same day. I don’t make these often because we eat all the bananas all up before they get nice and spotty despite how many bunches I purchase. 6 bunches and warmer weather this week did the trick.  I am sure Amanda’s are much tastier with the double chocolate thing and all, but you may find these noteworthy too…
Somer’s  Oil Free Vegan Banana Muffins
4-5 ripe bananas
2 T. ground flax-seed
1.5 C. unsweetened almond or soy milk
3 T. lemon juice
1 C. Raw Sugar (you can reduce this by half if you are really trying to bust sugar in your house)
1 T. vanilla extract
3 C. white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2 t. baking soda
1 t. kosher salt
Method: Combine Bananas, almond milk, lemon, vanilla and raw sugar in the blender until smooth. Mix remaining dry ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk. Stir in liquid banana goodness until just combined. Measure out by 1/4 C. into cupcake tin lined with paper baking cups. We add chocolate chips to some, dried cranberries to others and leave the rest plain to suit all our family preferences. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 24 muffins.
 More Grins: Carolyn coming over today bringing me some sunshine and goodies from Chef AJ’s Unprocessed Cookbook. Oh man on man, Banana Strawberry Mousse Tart (Raw) and Disappearing Lasagna. Yes, Carolyn I polished them both ALL OFF after you left and did not share any with my children. They can have the Not as Good as Amanda’s Banana Muffins! She also brought me an amazing fancy Cookbook Binder thingy in which to store all my new plant-based recipes. How did she know that’s exactly what I needed?!?!?
 
Even More Grins: Winning 1st place in the Church Salsa Contest on Cinco De Mayo with the In a Minute Blender Salsa, yes, it really is that easy, and shhh, they really were canned tomatoes.
And Last but Not Least Grins: Another big thank you to the ladies at mysisterspantry for nominating the blog for a Sunshine Award. I’m not even sure what the heck that means, and should probably put some effort into figuring it out, but it made my day and thanks are seriously belated!

Mmm, Strawberries … quick coring

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I’m blanking right now. What do you call it when you remove the stem on a strawberry? I’m sure it will come to me, but it hasn’t yet. We bought 14 pounds of strawberries this week … you know those sort of watery, stiff ones that drove in from California? I couldn’t help myself. It’s that whole gift horse, looking in the mouth thing. I am sure I’ll buy local delicious ones in the coming months, in fact, my own strawberry plants actually have flowers on them and if I can keep the snails off them we’ll be winners.
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What, you ask, does one do with 14 pounds of strawberries? Can I tell you? I am not as smart as Erika who is hulling a bunch and freezing them plain (because then you can do anything you want with them any time). I couldn’t help myself and pulled out my trusty Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and started experimenting.
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I made a double batch of the Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate Jen posted last week – half with fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice and half with “Real Lemon” (I’m sorry, but I had so much from last year’s Costco purchase and figured this would still be better than Countrytime in the summer). The Meyer lemon was definitely better, but the Real Lemon stuff was alright too.
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I also tried the Quick Strawberry-Lemon Marmalade … thumbs down. It tastes like strawberry jam with bitter lemon peel. I know, I KNOW! That’s what marmalade is, but it wasn’t lemony enough to justify the random bitter peel.
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I made cooked strawberry jam and freezer strawberry jam, both from the recipes on the packet of pectin. The cooked jam was the last thing I was making and I was a 1/2 cup shy of having enough, so I threw in a mango, and it still set up beautifully and now has lovely mango flecks in it. I still tastes mostly like sugar and strawberries, but now it’s prettier.
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And if you have NEVER made your own freezer jam, do it today. Or at least this weekend. You need pectin, lemon juice, sugar and strawberries – and not even very many of them. Oh, and plastic storage containers to store it in. Oh, and like 20 minutes. That’s it. Super fast.
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And finally, I made something called maple strawberry smooch. I haven’t actually tried it yet – just a small taste when it was wicked hot so I didn’t actually taste much, because it just barely filled the 4 pint jars I had and we have three other jams open right now. It looks like it is a nice strawberry sauce with a hint of maple, and we like maple, so it should be lovely over cake or ice cream, with yogurt, or in oatmeal.
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But now that I’ve talked about strawberry products, let’s get to the meat of HULLING strawberries. Growing up we risked life and limb with slightly dull paring knives as we tried to get the green and white out. I have friends that just hack the green part off, but leave the little core in there. But there is a better way. Can you trust me on this?
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You need a small spoon. A grapefruit spoon would be ideal. Watch this.
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Did you see it? Now try it. Hold your spoon like a paring knife, stick it in the top at an angle and sweep it around. It’s like you would with a paring knife, but it’s faster and there is very little fear of actually hurting yourself.

What’s on Your Grocery List? …Pinto Beans…

After years of buying cans of beans, slimy and covered in a strange, unidentifiable liquid, I was overjoyed when a sweet hispanic neighbor gave me the dried bean tutorial.  I had been daunted by the major process of boiling and soaking and then cooking the dried beans again just to use them in a recipe.  So tedious and time consuming.   

What a gift this recipe has been!  I will never be able to return the favor, but I can at least share the wealth of knowledge with others.  Think simple.  Think quick.  Think delicious! food-009First, pour two cups (three if you have a large crockpot) out onto your countertop. 

Sort out any broken or shriveled beans and any other rocks or dirt that may be found.food-010Rinse all of the good beans in a colander.food-012

Pour the beans into a crockpot.  Fill with water, about an inch from the top. 

Cook on high for 6 hours.  Add salt to taste around hour 4.   Enjoy!

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Goodbye canned beans!  I have also made black beans the same way, though I have not ventured with any others. 

How to use them?

1)  Burritos:  We make burritos about once a week, using raw tortillas cooked in the skillet, corn, cheese, salsa etc.  I always make a bunch of extra burritos to store in the freezer individually for my husband to take to work for lunches or for a quick snack for the kids.

3) Refried Beans:  Mash the beans and add 2 Tbls. olive oil and onion powder to taste (opt.).

2)  Chili:  My boys (especially my husband) are wary of chunky chili, so we tried something new tonight and it was a hit!  Bean Dip Soup.  Really, it was just the chunky chili with 2/3 of it run through the blender.  Served with Amanda’s Cornbread there were no complaints, only happy, healthy eaters!

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What’s on your Grocery List? Hot Cocoa Mix

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It is a rainy day here in the desert. One that calls for cocoa and a good book, but I don’t think I’ll get to the second half, and might only barely get to the first. And even “healthy” moms and kids need treats. Life would be dreadful without them, I’m sure.
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It has been a rough few weeks at our house, and while I’m on the mend, we had a night of a sick boy. We’re also cleaning out the fridge for an upcoming trip, so you can imagine it looks a little bare. I thought about coming up with recipe using cabbage, black beans, carrots and whey, but gave up.
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I have been looking for Guittard hite chocolate chips for a few weeks, because the stores I regularly shop at don’t carry them, I have had to shop around. I found them yesterday at Harmons (on sale for $2 a bag even) on our way to the park. According to America’s Test Kitchen, of the general brands, they are the best as they actually have white chocolate in them. Imagine that.
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As you might know from previous posts, I am always a bit leery of processed food because of ingredients I can’t pronounce or copious amounts of that unsatisfying corn syrup, and in solid form I’m even less pleased with it. And while the white chips have some of those long names, they lack corn syrup and others, and I recognize that occasionally, we have to be willing to give up the battle for the bigger picture. Compare the ingredients of the two below – Swiss Mix versus White Chips.
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The recipe originates from Cook’s Country.com, which I love. It calls for Dutch process cocoa, but since I only had the regular stuff, I used it. I’m not sure it is as good, because it has a much stronger chocolate flavor than the dutch process, but because it’s not used for baking, it doesn’t matter chemically, which is when you normally have to pay attention. For more info on the differences, go here.
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It makes a lot. A whole lot. It would be great for gifts, and it would also be a better idea to make it at the beginning of winter, rather than the end. I never claimed to be the smartest girl. The recipe says it makes 20 servings of 1/3 cup each, but 1/3 of a cup was WAY TOO much, at least for a sissy like me. I would probably start at 2 tablespoons and work my way up until I was happy. It is rich, easy and delicious.
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Best-Ever Hot Cocoa Mix (from Cookscountry.com)
Makes about 20 servings
3 cups nonfat dry milk
2 cups confectioners’ sugar (this was the recipe amount, but next time I might try regular sugar and add a touch more)
1 1/2 cups Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine ingredients in large bowl – this may be your only chance to mix them. Working in two batches, pulse ingredients in food processor until chocolate is finely ground. This could take awhile and your house might fill up with a fine, light cocoa-y powder. That’s not bad.
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Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. To make hot cocoa, stir 3 T to 1/3 cup of this mix into 1 cup of hot milk. Water might also work in a pinch or if traveling. Top with whipped cream or mini marshmallows.
**We tried it with just water, and it was better than packets of the stuff for sure. My only advice would be to add a teaspoon or so more sugar and top with whipped cream if you can.