Monday, April 16, 2012

Cashew Cheese

I still remember my first encounter with cashew cheese like it was was a brisk February day, and my mom, sisters, and I were going to one of our favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities, called Ecopolitan, and we ordered a Cashew Cheese Log...let's just say it rocked my world!  I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Even when I got back home to Grand Rapids, I knew I couldn't rest until I knew how to make it.  I called the cook at Ecopolitan who politely told me they can't give out exact recipes, but he did offer some guidance, for which I was very appreciative.  That day I began the process, and much to my surprise, it turned out amazing!  Everyone who eats it falls in love.  The taste is creamy and tangy, with a little bit of saltyness!  It's firm enough to shape into a cheese log, but loose enough to dip raw veggies into!  I use it as a spread on veggie sandwiches, to dip crackers in, or to top off vegan nachos with instead of sour's versatile, and incredible!  Did I happen to mention how easy it is to do?  Check this'll be shocked!

2 c. raw cashews (yes, they have to be raw).
Soak these in enough water to cover them by an inch.  They'll need to be soaked for a few hours...the longer you soak them, the softer they'll be.

Drain and rinse your cashews once they've soaked.  Throw them into a blender, along with:

1 c. water
3/4 t. sea salt
1/2 capsule of a good probiotic (if you don't feel like measuring out the probiotic, I've actually made this with a full capsule, but it's cheaper if you can stretch the probiotic out!)

Blend until everything is completely smooth.  When using my Vitamix, this literally took 30 seconds!  But I have done this in a regular old, cheapy blender too, and it still turns out just fine.  You may have to add a tiny bit more water to keep things moving, and you may have to stop the blender a few times and scrape the sides...either way, it should only take a few minutes.

Once blended, grab an old (clean) t-shirt, cheese cloth (doubled up), cloth napkin, nut milk bag...basically anything that won't "shed" into your cheese, but will let some moisture leak out...and dump the mixture into it.  Rubberband the top, or seal it somehow, place in a colander over a bowl, and let set in a warm room for about 24 hrs.

The time you have to allow it to set will depend on how warm your room is.  When I was in Florida, this took less than a day, but when I made it in the dead of winter in Michigan, it took 2 days.  Taste it off and on to see if it's done.  It should have a cheesy "tang" to it...the longer you let it set (within reason), the "tangier" it will get.

Remove from the cloth, scraping every last bit into a container, and put in your refrigerator.  It firms up quite a bit once it gets cold.  Done!  How easy is that?  You can eat it just like this, OR let me tell you what Ecoplitan did, that was to DIE for:

Take plastic wrap and cover with sundried olives, chopped basil, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts.  Take cold cashew cheese and form a log at one end of the plastic wrap.  Gently roll the log, keeping it in the plastic wrap, until it is covered in the toppings.  It should end up wrapped like a Tootsie Roll in the plastic wrap.

Chill for a few hrs.  Unroll onto a plate, drizzle with a balsamic reduction, sprinkle with micro greens, and raspberries.

Serve with good, thick crackers, and a knife for spreading!  (are you drooling yet, because I sure am!!)

One day, if I can make it and not eat it before taking a picture, I will photograph the log, and blog it...wonder if it's even possible to wait that long?!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Coconut Milk

I just made the BEST batch of coconut milk ever!  I've been making coconut milk for about 6 months now, and I have to say...I just love it! (and so do my girls!)  You would not believe how amazingly easy it is to do this, it's seriously as simply as soaking raw, shredded coconut, blending and straining it!  I've used this to make yogurt, serve over cereal, and in baking recipes where it calls for's versatile, healthy, and probably the best milk you'll ever drink (no joke)!  Of course it's delicious all on its own, but to make it taste the best it possibly can, I add a few extra ingredients.  Let's get started and you'll see how easy this is!

In a large bowl, soak 8 oz (or 1 bag) of Let's Do Organic Unsweetened Coconut in 4- 6 c. of hot water.

*I say "4-6" because it all depends on how far you want to stretch your buck when you're making this.  4 c. of water will give you a slightly thicker milk than 6 c., but honestly, if you're comparing flavor...I didn't notice a huge difference from the 4 to the 6 cups.  Obviously you get more milk with the 6 cups...that just goes without saying :)

You only have to soak the coconut for 1-2 hrs, but I soaked mine for probably 12 hrs this time (once the 2 hrs was up, I got really unmotivated and didn't feel like making I just let it keep on soaking!)  Who knows, maybe that's why it tastes so incredible this time around!

Anyways, once your coconut is soaked, put it all into a blender (water and all), and blend on high.  Since I use a Vitamix, this only took about 2 minutes, however, I have done this in a regular, cheapy blender too, and you just have to do it for a little longer.  I believe that if you let it go longer, you break down the coconut more, thus getting more flavor.  Give it a few extra minutes (or until you get sick of hearing the blender going!)

Once it's done blending, pour into a cheese cloth (doubled up), or a clean t-shirt, or a nut milk bag, and squeeze the living day lights out of it.  You want to get every drop of milk out of that pulp that you can.  This is a great way to work out some aggression (not that I would EVER feel stressed or frustrated over anything!)  Naturally, you will squeeze this over a bowl or container of some sort!

Now, you can drink this straight up, OR you can fancy it up a bit (which I like to do...makes it taste like dessert!)  Pour back into your blender, and add:

1/2-1 t. of sea salt (really brings out the flavor)
1/2 T. of pure vanilla extract
3 T. of coconut palm sugar (low glycemic and amazing in flavor...can also use maple syrup, raw honey, or agave)

Blend until the sugar has dissolved...NOW taste it...yeah...amazing, right?  What kid wouldn't want to drink that?!

DO NOT throw away the coconut pulp...are you crazy?!  Spread it out onto a jelly roll pan (or any kind of pan with sides) and bake at 200, stirring once in a while, until it's all dried out.  Throw it into a food processor or the Vitamix dry blade, and make your own coconut flour! This stuff is like should google how expensive it is to buy it!'ve just made your own milk, and your own do you feel?  Pretty darn cool!? Well you should! 

Here's a little tip, if you want to be as cost efficient as your coconut from amazon by the case.  I do the subscribe and save, and end up getting it for around $2 a bag (which is way cheaper than the store's $4+ a bag!)

Here's another tip...don't put the soaked coconut in the fridge, when it gets cold, it's way harder to squeeze out all the milk.  I feel like the fat solidifies, and gets caught in the cloth, and let's face it...the best part about the coconut is the fat!

Also, this will separate as it sets, no biggie, just shake it before serving and you're good to go. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am not gluten intolerant...(that I know of)...let's just start out by saying that, but it seems like more and more people out there are these days!  I feel that gluten in general is probably a bad thing for most people, and for that reason, I try to keep it out of our diets whenever I can.  Baking GF is really tricky...I had no idea what gluten actually did for, pretty much everything!  I found a recipe for some GF cookies that I had tried once before, but they just didn't hold together, and were kind of crumbly...(great because when you just eat the crumbs of cookies, you have no idea how many you're really eating!)  But for the sake of self-control, and if we're being honest, wanting to tackle this successfully, I came up with a recipe that not only holds together, but tastes amazing too!  There are a few more steps than "normal" cookies, but it's been my experience that if you want things done healthy, it's typically not the easy route that gets you there!  Give these a try..they're amazing!  Oh, and one more thing, I got rid of most of the oil, so they're a lot lower in fat than your typical cookie!

Preheat oven to 375

In a bowl cream together:

1 medium to large banana (weird I know!  Replacing some of the oil with this!)
1/6 c. coconut oil (or vegan butter)
3/4 c. coconut palm sugar (very low glycemic)
1/2 c. Ideal Xylitol Sugar (if you can't find this, you can use more palm sugar.  I like to use it because it brings the sugar content really far down, and it's good for your teeth)

Once there are no chunks in the mixture, and the sugar has dissolved, add:

1/3 c. warm water
1 T. vanilla
2 t. ener-g egg replacer
1 t. xanthan gum
1/4 c. tapioca starch
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 c. coconut flour
1 c. amaranth flour (I made both of my flours, so that's what I had on hand, feel free to try using your favorite GF flours, but I can't guarantee you'll get the same results!)
1 c. chocolate chips (I like the Enjoy Life mini chips best! However, their chocolate chunks are awesome too!)

Mix until everything is incorporated, and let set for about 5 minutes before scooping.

Scoop onto greased baking sheet using a tablespoon, and slightly flatten.

Bake for 8-10 minutes (mine were done in 8)...let cool before you take them off the pan...they don't hold together until they've cooled for a little bit (about 10 mins).

Done...amazing...and they look appealing too!  These are a hearty, lower fat cooking, packed with grains and low glycemic sweeteners!  Can't go wrong!

Perfect Bread

Bread is my Achilles Heel...I love it...a little too much, if you know what I mean!  I wish bread was a superfood, because then all of my problems could be solved, but alas it is not, and I have to limit my consumption just like anyone else!  This bread reminds me of the bread my mom used to bake for us when we were kids!  Before we knew about healthy vs. non-healthy, the bread my mom made was white, soft, and just the best bread you ever had!  Slathered with butter and homemade jam, this was my favorite snack after school when we came home!  Then we got wise to the dangers of "white stuff", and the bread became a thing of the past!  Until recently...I happened upon a flour called Ultragrain, one day while shopping at Costco, and decided to give it a try.  It boasts of all the same properties of whole grain bread, no bleaching, no stripping, it's just ground much finer...I decided to give it a try!  This is the recipe for the best bread you'll ever holds together so you can make sandwiches with it, it's moist, heavy, light, and no one will even know that it's whole wheat! (My husband, who hates whole wheat bread's texture, loves this bread!)  Best of all...this isn't a fussy recipe, I've made it so many times that I don't even measure most of the ingredients any more!

In a large bowl, combine:

5 c. warm water
4 T. yeast
6 T. sweetener (agave, honey, molasses, palm sugar...)

Set aside for about 5 mins. and let the yeast get frothy

Once the yeast has activated, add:

2 T. sea salt
6 T. oil (I've used coconut oil and olive oil...both are great)

Stir to incorporate, then add:

10 c. Ultragrain flour (if you can't find this, that's ok...I've used King Arthurs white whole wheat flour before, and have gotten pretty good will be a heavier bread though.)
1/2 c. vital wheat gluten (this is usually in the baking aisle...don't skip this ingredient)

Stir until everything is incorporated, and turn out onto a heavily floured surface.

Knead for about 3-5 minutes, adding a little more flour if it starts to stick.  You'll know when you can stop kneading, because the texture of the dough changes from sticky to stretchy.  You should be able to feel it come together.

Grease your mixing bowl, and put the dough back into it.  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, or a clean dish towel, and let raise until it has doubled in size.  (Depends how warm your kitchen is...may only take 45 could take up to 1 1/2 hrs.)

Turn back out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 4-5 equal sections (some bread pans are slightly bigger than others, so you can do 4 loaves with those, or 5 of the slightly smaller ones). 

Punch down each section into a rough rectangle shape, and tightly roll into a log, pinching the seam to seal.  With the palm of your hand, squeeze each end of the log to release the air bubbles, and fold up, pinching off the seams to seal.  When you flip your log over, you should have something that slightly resembles a loaf of bread.

Place each "log" into a greased bread pan, cover, and let raise for about 25-30 mins (or until they are as big as you want them.)

Bake at 350 for 25-30 mins (when you tap on them, they should sound hollow...that's how you know they're done)

Remove from oven, remove from pan, and place on a cooling rack.  Brush the tops with olive oil or vegan butter (optional).

If you can wait for them to cool before cutting them, that's best, but if you can't, just be gentle :)

This will make 4-5 loaves...I personally double this and make 8-9 at a time, then freeze them.  If you're going to make the mess, you might as well only have to do it once a month! (And trust me...this is so good, you'd be surprised at how quickly you go through this!)