Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homemade Nut butters

Time: 15 min. total

nuts (I've tried this with pecans and peanuts. Check nut processing if you have peanut allergy concerns)
(optional, for pecans only) Coconut oil, check processing for allergen concerns
salt to taste

A food processor, grain/nut grinder, or lots more time and a big mortar and pestle

1. Get some nuts, add a little salt to taste, and grind those puppies up in the food processor or whatever you've got, until they are mash. Ta-da - Nut butter! My food processor can only handle a small amount of nuts at a time, much less than other, less binding foods, so you may want to check with your processor recommendations. Also, blenders typically don't do too great with this (although I understand a Vitamix does all right).

2. If you are making peanut butter, you need to use roasted or steamed peanuts for it (tastes rather nasty with raw peanuts, IMO). I hear that spanish peanuts do fairly well for this, as they have a high oil content. The most commonly used peanut for commercial peanutbutter is something called the florunner, but as I have yet to see something with that name for sale, I'm thinking the spanish peanut is a better bet. I just used a regular ole peanut which I shelled myself, and it did all right. I added a couple pinches of salt. It was a bit drier than the peanutbutter I'm used to, but we didn't really care.

3. If you are making pecan butter, my attempts came up with a fairly dry nut butter. It never gets that creamy for me. In fact, in the processor, it just made fluffy little cous-cous-like balls of mashed pecan. I had to mush it myself to make it come together. However, when I didn't add salt to the pecan butter, I was able to add some coconut oil after it was scooped out of the processor, and that added both a nice texture and a pleasant scent, too.

4. Serve this as a dip for fruit or veggies, like apples or celery.

Feeds: Completely dependent on how many nuts you use. About 1/3 pound of pecans made maybe a pint of nut butter. Didn't measure the peanuts though, sorry!

What worked: Both of these nut butters did well as dips for apples, which is really about all we used them for. Might do well added to some kind of peanutbutter soup, too. Might do better as a thickener for that than standard nut butters

What didn't work: Rather plain, as I added nothing but the nuts, salt, or that coconut oil for pecans. I forgot that I roasted the peanuts for this butter, so I used raw pecans rather than roasted. Wondering if roasted pecans would have a more robust taste...whatever that is, LOL. Both of these nut butters would have to have a much higher oil content, or outside oil added, to work as a good spread for something. A neutral or flavored oil would probably work, but I only had olive and coconut, so I figured coconut was less nasty with nuts.

What would improve it: I'm thinking that a little investigation on some herbs and flavorings might really help this out some. Maybe a maple pecan butter or a cocoa peanut butter might be awesome...if I could have maple or cocoa, sigh. But if you can, you should totally go for it! Also, I'm reading a couple places that the fluffy ball stage comes before the smooth, buttery stage, so perhaps I have not been processing my nuts enough, here. We'll have to mess around for a bit to check on it.

And lastly, I know, I know, coconut oil is not usually a staple for a lot of us, nor is it cheap. But this totally works without that oil, I just shoved it on there because I sometimes add it.

LOW HISTAMINE - For lists that accept nuts, this should be low histamine compliant. However, some lists don't allow nuts, or only allow certain ones, so treat with caution.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Spicy Tomato Soup

Time: 35 min. total (add 3 hours if letting veggie noodles sit. Add 30-60 min. more if you need to make the tomato sauce, too)
(10 min. prep/ 3 hours veggie setting time (can be skipped)/ 25 min. cook)

Plain tomato sauce, as long as it's thin rather than thick (add water to thin, if too thick)
browned ground beef
zucchini, peeled and cubed
zucchini, peeled with a julienne peeler to form noodles (ideally, let sit 3 hours uncovered in fridge)
jalapeño peppers, to taste (I use 1-2 per serving)
Fresh italian oregano, German thyme, marjoram, and golden sage, chopped fine
sea salt to taste

1. Put all ingredients except the zucchini noodles into a pot. Adjust amounts to taste.

2. Heat to a simmer and keep it there for about 15 minutes. Add the zucchini noodles and cook until desired texture, usually 3-5 minutes. Can be served immediately, but I liked it better the next day after the flavors blended a bit more.

Feeds: Depends on the amounts used. I used 1/4 lb ground beef, 1-2 cups sauce, 1/2 small zucchini plus 1 small julienned zucchini, 2 peppers, and a handful of herbs. That amount made 2 servings.

Shauna's Notes:
Inspired by: The lovely Nicole for showing me an easy way to make plain tomato sauce, plus a hungry belly and a limited pantry before market day

What worked: The taste was great, spicy and tangy. Texture was good for a soup, maybe even a bit thicker than expected. Quite pretty, too.

What didn't work: Nothing, really. It was nice.

What could be done to improve it: A garnish might be rather pretty, which I didn't have time or energy to do this time. The zucchini noodles might look prettier if I got a larger zucchini, as my small one ended up with very short noodles.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Easy Tomato Sauce

Time: 35-90 min. total - greatly dependent on quantity
(15-30 min. prep/ 20-60 min cook)

Cooking tomatoes and fresh herbs for the sauce

Easy Tomato Sauce

Lots and lots of ripe tomatoes, chopped coarsely
sea salt to taste
fresh herbs (I used a handful of italian or greek oregano plus a little marjoram and a sprig of sage, this time. Basil is good too.)

1. Put the chopped tomatoes and sea salt into a pot and cook at a simmer or low boil. I usually use a low boil.

2. Keep cooking until the skins begin to peel away from the tomatoes a little. The tomatoes will look mushy at this point. Not a big deal if you cook it a bit too long, though. This usually takes me about, oh, 15-25 minutes, maybe? I don't keep track really well, honestly.

3. Turn off the heat and put the tomatoes into a blender to purée them until smooth. Put them back into the pot and continue to simmer. Too high a heat will burn the tomato sauce, but too low and it takes WAY too long for it to thicken up. Kind of a judgement call on the temp, here.

4. Add chopped, fresh herbs to taste. Basil and oregano go well, usually, for a first try. Continue to simmer until the sauce reaches desired thickness and sweetness. The longer it boils, the sweeter it gets. I understand if you want tomato paste, just keep boiling until it's extra-thick (haven't tried that yet, though).

Feeds: How much you make is affected by how many tomatoes you use, obviously. About 8 vine ripened tomatoes plus 3-4 larger heirloom tomatoes made 3-4 pints of sauce by the time it boiled down to the thickness I wanted.

Shauna's Notes:
Inspired by: My friend Nicole, who took pity on my sad lack of cooking skills and showed me how to make a quick, GF tomato sauce.

What worked and didn't work: It's a nice sauce as long as you have enough time to cook it. If you cook it for too short a time, the tomato flavor is less sweet and more of that tart, raw-ish tomato taste, which my son hates. Also, as the cooking time affects the thickness, this can take a while to get it as thick as you may desire. So far, haven't had a bad herb combination, but more is almost always better. My sauce does contain seeds as I don't leave those out.

What would improve it: This is a really basic sauce, which I typically spruce up when I actually use it in a recipe. For the most basic sauce, I don't even add the herbs. I like to make a big batch like this because then I can add whatever type of flavor-style I want, like for Italian dishes or Mexican ones.

Herb combinations:

  1. Marjoram, winter savory, and greek oregano
  2. Marjoram, winter savory, and rosemary
  3.  For Italian spaghetti-style sauce, I usually add chopped zucchini, bell peppers, hot peppers, garlic, sometimes chopped kale or swiss chard, and meat. I've also used chopped carrots, as well.
  4.  For Mexican sauces, I often add onion, garlic, mexican sage, greek oregano. I'll frequently add chopped cilantro and sliced avocado on top, after it's done cooking.

3/7/13 - Since first making this, I have had the best success using suggestions from some lovely folks at my farmer's market. Now, instead of regular ripe tomatoes, I get some over-ripe and some under-ripe tomatoes - heirloom ones worked awesome, but mixing them with regular tomatoes is probably more affordable. Then, I cooked them until the tomatoes were mush, then blended them up and then kept cooking.  This made a much sweeter tomatoes sauce, both the over-ripe tomatoes and the longer cooking time. Really quite lovely.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Potater Tots

My first attempts - not half as nice looking as my later attempts, post-tweaking.

Time: Approx. 30 min. total
(15 min. prep/11-12 min. cook)

2 russet potatoes
1-2 finally chopped green onions, green and white parts
1-2 cloves of garlic
3-4 Tb. olive oil
salt to taste
Note - any herbs you like with potatoes could be substituted here, as long as you use a large enough amount. Garlic alone is great, and so is green onion alone.

Equipment needed
couple of glass plates
Iron skillet (or something else that can be used both on the stove top and in the oven)

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.

2.Grate the potato, skin and all, using two different sizes on the grater. The teeny, tiny grater size and the regular grater size (medium? Large? Not sure what it's called). You want about a 1:2 ratio of tiny gratings to regular gratings. Mix these together until the tiny shreddings are mixed evenly through the grated potato pieces.

3. Put these in a big pile of paper towels or a non-fuzzy tea towel and squeeze out most of the water. You want to leave a little bit, though. Just squeeze until no more water is coming out after one pass through.

4. Put the iron skillet on the stove top and set the temperature to medium high to heat as you form your potater tots. If you think the forming will take longer, you may want to wait on heating it up, though.

5. Place grated potato in a bowl and mix with the green onions, garlic, and salt, or whatever seasonings you are using. Get out a plate or two. Taking a small amount of potato shreds at a time, on the plate form them into small cakes about 2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. Basisally, squish the potato in your hand, drop it on the plate, and then press hard against the plate until it is the right size and shape. The won't hold together great; that's expected.

3. Add 3-4 Tb. of oil to the skillet to heat. This can be done with about 2 Tb of oil, but a little more oil makes a crispier outside, the few times I've done it. Or rather, the few times the kids helped and we got more oil than intended. :-D

4. To move the tots to the skillet, get the plate over the skillet, as close as you can to it, and just slide them off onto the skillet. When we've done it this way, we've managed to keep the tots keep their shape as long as the plate was very close to the skillet while sliding them in.

5. Fry them on the skillet for 1-2 minutes, until it's nice and crispy brown on the bottom. If there is more oil, the entire bottom with be nicely brown. If there's less oil used, the browning will be more spotty. Flip them over and cook for another minute or so, just browning a little bit. Then take the entire skillet and move it to the oven. Cook for 8 minutes or until done.

Makes about 24-27 'tots'

Shauna's Notes:
Inspired by: The idea of using the iron skillet is all Gluten Free Girl, from her Potato Pancakes recipe, as well as the idea for using green onions rather than regular onions (Yeah, don't try to use those. Not so great). Using different sized shreds is actually from a complete mis-reading of her recipe the second time I tried it when attempting her potato pancakes, which has turned out to be a great mistake.

What worked: The taste is awesome, a bit greasy (that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned), and totally makes me think of the Ore-Ida Tater Tots that I can't eat any more. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. I like it better with both garlic and onion, but onion is fine on its own. I can't use any starches, which was a problem when I was first fiddling with this, but the different sized gratings seem to help keep the tots together somewhat. As long as the smaller size is very small, that is.

What didn't work: The kids liked the little potater tots all right, but have expressed a preference for the larger ones, more like the size used in the Gluten Free Gal's potato pancake recipe. They enjoy more soft potatoes. I actually preferred the little ones, but that could be nostalgia talking as well as the fact that this is my 'allergy challenge' and I might not have the chance to eat these again any time soon if it doesn't work out. I tried 2 potatoes this time simply because that's as many as I had today, but more would be better. The tots were eaten very fast and the kids were hungry for more.

What could be done to improve it: If there is a pepper you can use, that would be tasty, I think. Something added to help the grated potato hold together would likely make the entire tot easier to handle, but I don't know how it affects the texture and taste. Probably not by too much, considering this is what the Gluten Free Gal does and she has tasty looking stuff.

Overall, this recipe gets a thumbs up.

Changes and suggestions to this recipe can be found: here.

SULFITE FREE  - Many folks with sulfite sensitivity can't have onions or garlic, so just omit it. I like to add chile peppers or other herbs, instead.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spicy Acorn Squash and Apple Soup

Time: Approx. 40 min. total (1 hour 40 min. if need to make veggie broth)
(10 min. prep/ 30 min. cook) (1 hour to make broth, if not pre-made)

1 small apple, peeled and cut into slices
1 small acorn squash, cut in half and seeds scooped out
1-2 green onions, the white parts only
1/2-1 cup broth (I used a veggie broth leftover from boiling yellow squash, that I cooked down)
3 dried tepin chile peppers
1-3 leaves dried golden sage
salt to taste
1-3 Tb of apple cider vinegar (mine is homemade, without added yeast, and it is HARSH. Lemon juice would work)

1. Get a microwave safe dish, fill 1/4 inch with water, and place squash cut-side down in the dish. Nuke that puppy. It took me 8 minutes for this squash, but it was exceptionally small. The outside rind should be very soft and depress easily to the finger when done. Remove and let cool a smidge.
2. Put the apples in a glass bowl, add a couple teaspoons water, and nuke this too. Maybe 30-60 seconds.
3. Scoop out the acorn squash flesh, then put the flesh, the apple, the onion, the broth, and the salt into a blender and blend that puppy until it's a nice consistency.
4. Put on the stove in a saucepan and heat to a simmer. Add the chile peppers and sage. Cook until you like the smell and the texture, about 15 minutes for mine. When you turn off the heat, add the vinegar to taste. Give it a minute to blend before you taste. I don't know why, but it always seems to get just a touch more sour after it's been sitting in the soup for a while, so it's good to be cautious, at first, if you don't want to end up with Vinegar Soup (it's not pretty).

Shauna's Notes:
Inspired by: Having an acorn squash about to bite the dust and remembering that there are an awful lot of recipes with apples, onions, and butternut squash that I've seen around. Then remembering that something sour is often added at the end of a vegetable purée soup. Otherwise, it was just being hungry and not having a lot of food on hand until market day.

What worked: The color was really nice - a bright yellow (this acorn squash had yellow flesh) with flecks of bright red from the chiles. I like the sour tang afterward. It also worked really nice when I added cooked, ground bison meat (with garlic) to it for leftovers the next day. The chile gave it a nice kick, and I liked the small hint of sage, as well.

What didn't work: I didn't blend it well enough so I ended up with watery-with-pulpy-bits rather than a nice purée. The squash being older probably didn't help. The flavor wasn't amazing or anything, just edible without making a face at the thing. The squash was also rather bland, so I think the flavor might have been better with a more flavorful squash. No real flavor difference from the apple, that I could tell.

What could be done to improve it: Something a bit creamy or bitter might have gone nicely with it, or a stronger broth. Maybe. I'm still trying to figure out what goes well together, and can't say that it comes naturally to me at all. If I could have dairy, I think I would have added a strong, plain yogurt rather than the vinegar at the end, or when it was being served, perhaps. Roasting the squash instead of nuking it might have added more depth to the squash taste, too (I think.).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Starting from Scratch - literally

The me of 10 years ago: mom of one and a self-taught mediocre cook of traditional American fair with a Mexican, Asian, or Indian meal thrown in here and there.

The me of 9 years ago: mom of two, still a mediocre cook, but one who had to find brand new recipes for all my traditional American, Mexican, Asian, or Indian meals so that they didn't include anything with dairy, for baby #2. Asian food became much more of a staple.

The me of now: mom of two, still working on that cooking, but now have a number of new foods to avoid, so it's back to the drawing board for the recipes again. Or in other words...I'm really, really tired. ;-D

Which brings me to this blog. I hope to keep track of what recipes I've come up with, at this point. Some may be good, some may be really bad (Trust, some will be. I have no doubts on this score), but I'm learning as I go.

The challenge is avoiding all the foods I or my children can't have. We only have a few food issues, but they're with ingredients that are in nearly all processed food, and we're sensitive enough to have trouble with ingredients derived from these foods or contaminated from these foods, too. Gluten, corn, dairy, eggs, soy, sugarcane - all on the No list. Plus a few others.

I used to think cooking from scratch meant I didn't use a mix. I've adjusted that waaaay down. I've got an olive oil and a sea salt as my two processed foods. Anything else? Well, for the moment I get to make it, whether it's vinegar or tomato paste.

So this blog is the blog of cooking from scratch, from the perspective of someone who is having to learn how to cook, for the third time in a row. A bit nerve wracking, honestly. I didn't learn it all that well the first two times!

But, well, third time's the charm, right?