Food

Recipes, kitchen tips, culinary exploration and cooking with kids

Best Cookies Ever: Nutty, Crunchy, Chocolate Chunky “Health” Cookies

I’ll say it again.  Best cookies ever.

I know, I know… The internet is full of recipes claiming this superlative.  But for me any my family, this recipe is where it’s at.  And the best part?  They’re actually good for you!

These cookies are the ultimate combination of nutty and chocolatey with sensational texture and flavor.  Crunchy roasted almonds, dark chocolate chunks, nutty walnuts, coconut and maple syrup.  They’re not too sweet and have just enough salt to highlight each flavor, and since most of the ingredients are whole, unrefined foods, the end product is filling and satisfying with no sugar hangover.  And while they’re slightly more time consuming and a bit pricier than your average cookie, they make up for it by being so freaking fantastic.  Seriously though… So damn good.

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I call these health cookies because the fat, sugars and grains are unrefined.  I use pureed nuts instead of butter or oil, Whole grains intend of processed white flour, and maple syrup (or dates) in place of refined cane sugar.  The variations for this recipe are endless, so after making these cookies, use this recipe as a base for your own variations!

Before I share the recipe, here are a few tips to ensure your cookies turn out awesome!

I highly recommend preparing as much of this from scratch as possible.  It adds some steps to the process, but the love and attention have a real impact on the final product.  For example, homemade almond butter and freshly toasted almonds are 10 million times better than store-bought.  (You can find my recipe for homemade almond butter here).

To toast raw almonds, simply bake them on a cookie sheet at 350 for 10 minutes or until fragrant.  Let cool completely and then chop them.  To get nice even pieces, use the base of a large knife and forcefully press down quickly with even weight, making nice clean cuts (and inevitably banging on the cutting board, potentially waking a napping toddler).

Try to get a nice dark chocolate.  I prefer this awesome 72% cacao “Pound Plus” from Trader Joes.  I then cut it up into chunks for the cookies.  To get nice chunks and avoid the chocolate from shaving while you cut it, use the same method as I described for chopping the almonds.  Cut each small square in half, then chop the pieces even smaller.

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You can make these with whole wheat flour or oat flour (which I used this time).  To make easy homemade oat flour, just put some oats in your blender and blend away! It’s amazingly easy, especially if you have a good blender like a Vitamix.  I have also made variations of “health cookies” with combinations of different flours like almond, coconut, quinoa and others.

The walnuts in this recipe can be substituted by an additional 1/2 cup of almond butter, but I prefer it with the combo of the two nuts.

Unsweetened coconut was surprisingly easy to find (from Fry’s/Kroger) and the same price as sweetened!

We prefer to keep these cookies in the freezer and eat them semi-frozen.  The crunchy chocolate and chewy dates add even more to the awesome texture.

 

Alright, now let’s make some health cookies!

Recipe: Nutty Chocolate Chunk Health Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the food processor, blend together almond butter, walnuts, and maple syrup until relatively smooth.  Blend in eggs and vanilla.  Toss in unsweetened coconut and pulse for about 5 seconds.

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The soul of the recipe… Maple syrup, almond butter and walnuts.  BLEND!

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This alone is an amazing creation that could be an INSANE frosting.

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If you make a yin yang with the eggs, the cookies will give you inner balance and improved zen.

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Add oat flour, salt and baking soda.

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Add oats and blend until incorporated.

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Move dough to a large bowl and fold in chocolate chunks,  almonds and dates.

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Scoop large balls of dough onto an cookie sheet and bake for about 9-11 minutes.  The smaller you make them, the less time they will need.

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They’re not going to win a beauty contest, but trust me. They are freaking delicious.

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I highly recommend storing these in the freezer and eating them semi-frozen, but feel free to enjoy them at any temperature!  Enjoy these and don’t forget to share your comments and questions.  Happy baking!

 

Recipe: Nutty Chocolate Chunk Health Cookies

(AKA Best cookies ever)

Makes 9-14 cookies (depending on how big you make them)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 2/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  •  1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups oat flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1 cup chopped roasted almonds
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks
  • 1/2 Chopped Medjool dates

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In the food processor, blend together the almond butter, walnuts, and maple syrup until relatively smooth.  Blend in the eggs and vanilla.  Toss in the coconut and pulse for about 6 seconds.
  3. Add oat flour, baking soda and salt, processing until combined.  Add oats and blend until incorporated. Dough will be sticky.
  4. Move dough to a large bowl and fold in chocolate chunks, almonds and dates.
  5. Scoop large balls of dough onto an cookie sheet and bake for about 9-11 minutes.  The smaller you make them, the less time they will need.
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Portland Food Adventures

A wedding is always a great excuse to travel. And when your parents offer to take care of your son while you’re gone, you might as well make a six-day vacation out of it! Yay! Adult time! No more 7 PM curfew! This is a chronicle of our culinary journey through the wonderful city of Portland.

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Ahoy! To Portland! The city of cyclists, bridges, and deliciously caloric and locally-sourced foodstuffs! The land of breweries, flannel, tattooed sleeves and handlebar mustaches. The place where kale grows from every crack in the sidewalk! A promised land where the streets are lined with biscuits, heirloom tomatoes and salted caramel! Oh, dear Portlandia, where will we go, what will we see, and most importantly—what will we eat?

I’ve scored Portland’s foods in three categories:

MISS: From “meh” to “blech”

HIT: From “Ooh, not bad!” to “Yum!”

SUPER HIT: From “OMG yum!!!” to “HOLY CRAP THIS IS EFFING AMAZING”

 

Day 1: Arrival

Our friend David picked us up and took us straight to Bake Shop, where we got  a chocolate orange pecan pastry and a ham and cheese croissant.  The croissant was incredibly flaky, crispy, and buttery, with just the right amount of salt–one of the best I’ve EVER had!  As for the chocolate orange pastry, my husband devoured it before I could get a taste. “It was really good!” he said, as I shook my head with a menacing scowl.  We were off to a good start!

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SUPER HIT: Ham and cheese croissant from Bake Shop.

Then we checked into our awesome AirBnB accommodation.  Our room had a separate entrance surrounded by a beautiful garden where we could pick fresh tomatoes and blueberries.

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HIT: Fresh blueberries growing outside our AirBnB accommodation.

Before we knew it, our blood sugar had dropped and our livers needed another fat injection, so we lunched at Lardo.  This was the first of many examples of how Portland is a truly pig-obsessed city.IMG_1176

Nom nom nom… Meat meat meat…  The burger was good, but Maybe a sturdier bun or baguette would have held up better to the “Lardo sauce” they smothered on the meat.  I would definitely go back for the PBLT and the Bahn Mi!

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HIT: Pork meatball bahn mi, Lardo house fries.  MISS: Double burger with porkstrami  .

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HIT: (Half eaten) shaved zucchini with Caesar dressing, basil, parmesan, bread crumbs. I want to make this at home now.

As we finished up, we were so full that we could barely discuss what to eat for dinner.  That night David made us a fantastic quinoa dish complete with kale and tomatoes from his garden- just what our bodies were craving!  For dessert we had lavender-infused ice cream with plum and freshly picked blueberries.

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HIT: A home-cooked meal made with local, organic ingredients served alongside a cold glass Portland-made beer.

Day 2: More exploring and catching up with friends

Exploring New Seasons Market is like wandering through an episode of Portlandia.  We walked there from our place constantly for breakfast burritos, drinks, snacks and treats as we thought to ourselves, “Yeah, this is so much better than CORPORATE Whole Foods!”

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HIT: New Seasons makes a surprisingly delicious vegetarian breakfast burrito! Potato, egg, green chile, cheese and onion. It’s no Julioberto’s, but it did the trick!

After a breakfast burrito and a long walk downtown from our home base, we mapped out a course to our next meal.  A food pod!  For those of you who aren’t familiar, a food pod is a group of food trucks in a semi-permanent setting.  Food pods are all around the city, but we went to a big one near O’Bryant Square.

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One of Portland’s many glorifications of swine

If you’re indecisive about what to eat, avoid food pods.  There were Scottish fish and chips, gyros, crepes, Chinese food, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Ethiopian, and everything in between.  We saw a decent line in front of one of the gyro places, so we went for it.

As I shoveled the food into my mouth, I realized the line of people must have been mostly tourists who didn’t know that this food stall was in the “so-so” category.  My rice was super oily and my lamb wasn’t cut from a spit, but resembled processed meat fried up on a griddle.  Why, God? WHY?!?

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MISS: Food pod meal #1: Lamb gyro, lamb and rice plate with salad and tzaziki, stuffed grape leaves.

Our food coma was setting in, so we went in search of some coffee.  Destiny took us to Pearl Bakery, where I had an absolutely heavenly chocolate chip pecan cookie.  The brownie wasn’t bad either!

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SUPER HIT: Chocolate chip pecan cookie and walnut brownie from Pearl Bakery. I found $1.50 to be an absolute steal for a cookie of this caliber.

A nap and a shower later, we felt like new again and walked to Life of Pie.  We split a small pizza topped with caramelized onions, goat cheese and garlic along with a green salad and some beers.  Overall it was a great meal, but next time I will definitely go back before 6 PM for their famous happy hour specials: the $5 margherita pizza and $3 draft beers!

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HIT (despite the burnt spots): Wood-fired pizza from Life of Pie

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HIT: It’s hard to screw up a mixed green salad…

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HITS: Proletariat NW Red Ale and Na Zdravi Czech-style Pilsner

Later that night we met up with the brides, their family and the other out-of-towners at a local brewery.  There was food leftover from their rehearsal dinner, so I took the opportunity to stuff myself with undressed mixed greens by the plateful, providing myself a buffer of healthy fiber for all the deliciously naughty treats the weekend would hold.

Day Three: Wedding, Farmers market and Reception

The day had come! In a beautiful morning ceremony at Cathedral Park,  Our friends Kate and Shelly expressed their love to each other in front of a small group of joyous family and friends.

After the wedding the guests were encouraged to go out and enjoy everything Portland has to offer.  We made our way over to the most fantastic farmers market I have ever been to, where we were hypnotized by mounds of stunning produce and infinite jars of local cheeses, honeys and jam.  By the end of it, we were so spoiled by Portland’s local treasures that heirloom tomatoes seemed commonplace, albeit no less bedazzling.

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SUPER HIT: The product samples offered at the farmers market

“But what to have for lunch?  Ooh, how about that booth, Portland Curry! This is gonna be great! Local organic chicken tikka masala, chickpea malasa in a spiced sauce… Yummy!”

In hindsight, some might argue that you should avoid buying Indian food when the booth is staffed only by white people.  I reject that notion, as I feel even non-Indians can make great curry.  These people could not.  It was not great.  It was terrible.  It’s like they thought, “How can we make this as flavorless as possible and still call it curry?”  No amount of cilantro, yogurts and chutneys could make this stuff good.  And the “chicken tikka” was mostly big chunks of potatoes in an under-salted, under-spiced broth that left me wanting to thrust my bowl at their booth like an unsatisfied toddler.

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SUPER MISS: Under-salted, unde-rspiced, underwhleming Portland curry. That ain’t right.

But check out those tomatoes!

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The most exquisite raw chocolate peanut butter bar made up for any of life’s problems.

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SUPER HIT: Raw, vegan chocolate peanut butter bar from Eatin’ Alive.

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Kate and Shelly definitely did their research when planning the menu for their reception, because that Thai buffet was perfection.   Chicken satay, vegetable spring rolls, lemongrass chicken rolls, pad see ew (EFFING AMAZING), Panang curry, pineapple fried rice… Holy crap. I served myself seconds even though I was already pretty stuffed by my first plateful.

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SUPER HIT: Thai food at the wedding reception.

But oh, the pie!  I wouldn’t say s’mores are anything I crave, but this mini pie was calling me, and I’m so glad I chose him.

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These delectable miniature pies came from a place called the Pie Spot. I love that they served pie instead of cake.

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SUPER HIT: S’mores mini pie. I want some more.

 

Day Four: Recovery

The great thing about late nights of drinking and dancing is that you can always sleep it off the next day.  Unless you’re a dad whose circadian rhythm won’t let you sleep past 6:30, despite the fact that you consumed copious amounts of Patron the night before.  I’m speaking hypothetically, of course… Time for another breakfast burrito and a large can of rehydrating coconut water! My head still hurts…

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Electrolytes, please

Next came a mid-morning nap, then an outing for lunch with David while Simon slept off an incoming migraine.  We walked from our AirBnB to a deli where I had a house-made beef pastrami sandwich on rye.  It was much more thick-cut than I’m used to, and I was so glad to see it wasn’t piled ridiculously high like at so many delis.

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HIT: Beef pastrami on rye.

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Sunday afternoon we saw The Hundred Foot Journey, a feel-good movie about culinary passions dividing and uniting Indian immigrants and their French counterparts.  The movie was full of tantalizing sights of Indian and French cuisine, leaving us hungry for the spices of the Orient.  And no, not Portland Curry, please.

As we walked out of the theater toward the bus station, we heard Indian music playing nearby.  We crossed the street and suddenly we were in the midst of the annual Portland Indian Festival.

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The food looked amazing and we enjoyed the festival, but with no real place to sit and eat, we settled for a souvenir jar of local organic ghee and hopped on a bus to try out the restaurant Bollywood Theatre.

Holy cow, this place is so AMAZING!  It’s unlike any Indian restaurant I’ve been to.

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SUPER HIT: Beets roasted with coconut milk and curry leaves

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SUPER HIT: Vada Pav, a spicy potato dumpling dipped in chickpea batter and fried. Served on a roll with chutneys. The “Poor Man’s Burger” of Mumbai. The sweet and spiced coconut on the side was extraordinary.

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SUPER HIT: Some kind of paratha wrap with chicken and other delicious stuff (I didn’t write down the name and can’t seem to find it on the online menu). One of the awesome food highlights of the trip!

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HIT: Pork Vindaloo with saffron rice, sambar, dal (lentils), raita, paratha (tortilla-like deliciousness) and green chutney

After Bollywood, we waddled next door to one of Portland’s most famous ice cream shops, Salt and Straw.  The flavors are all slightly bizarre, including “bone marrow with smoked bourbon cherries,” which sounds repulsive to me.  I chose almond brittle with salted ganache and honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper, and Simon had the strawberry and coffee bourbon.

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HIT: Ice cream from Salt and Straw.

 

Day Five: Last call!

In our last full day in Portland, we had to check out Tasty n Sons, where the weekend brunch wait was over an hour.  We arrived promptly at their opening time of 9 AM and quickly realized why this place is so popular.  Wow.

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SUPER HIT: Potatoes Bravas with over-easy eggs and aioli. So simple, yet so great. And a generous serving for $7.

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SUPER HIT: Fried egg, bacon and cheese on a cheddar biscuit. This biscuit was the best I’ve ever eaten. Truly divine!

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MISS: Chocolate potato doughnut with crème anglaise. Sorry, Tasty n Sons, but your other amazing dishes made this one just “meh.”

For our last Portland lunch we felt we had to give the food pod another try, so this time we chose Korean.  It was a massive serving of delicious spicy pork, rice, noodles, salad and kimchi food for only $7.  YES!

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HIT: Spicy Korean pork, glass noodles, kimchi and salad with rice

After lunch we were powered up for a trek up to the Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden.

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SUPER HIT: Sriracha. And Portland’s world-famous Japanese garden.

For dinner Monday we asked David where he’d like to go to celebrate his birthday.  He chose Park Kitchen, a beautiful little restaurant near a park downtown.  We ordered a series of small plates to share.  Yum yum!

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HIT: Amuse bouche of heirloom tomatoes, beans and mustard vinaigrette.

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HIT: E.Z Orchards Hard Apple Cider, on the house in honor of the birthday boy!

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MISS: Salt cod fritters with malt vinegar. They were fine, but not enough to get a “hit” in my book.

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HIT: Ken’s bread, Park Kitchen crackers, and handmade butter.  Crackers were more like savory cookies though.

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MISS: Summer tomato salad with Genovese cured pork. This would have been fabulous if the dressing didn’t consist of melted (and later coagulated) pork fat. I prefer my pork fat be disguised in my food, thank you.

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HIT: Lamb meatballs, green peppers, cattle beans, and mint.

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MISS: Ayer’s Creek cornmeal pasta, braised pork shoulder, and zucchini. It was fine, but it had a slightly undercooked texture.

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HIT: Buttermilk panna cotta, Bairds peaches, bourbon, candied pecans.  This was almost a “miss” in my book, as the thick layer of clear gelatin on top was rather uncalled for.

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MISS: Summer berry bread pudding with house made ricotta. I am calling this a miss because it was not really bread pudding but a wet cake. And it needed more sugar to balance the tartness of everything going on.

Day Six: Home sweet home and reunited with our son!

I officially love Portland.  It’s a fabulous city with great character and awesome food, and Simon and I have decided we want to go back as often as we can afford to.  We highly recommend Bollywood Theater, Tasty n Sons, food pods and just exploring the city’s culinary treasures.  After a quick breakfast burrito and a heartfelt farewell to one of the coolest cities in the U.S., we made it to our plane and flew home, eagerly anticipating hugging our amazing son.  I have to add one culinary highlight, this little bag of mini graham crackers provided by Southwest Airlines, which I eagerly devoured as a seeing-eye dog nuzzled into my feet.  Life is good.

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Summer Snow: Watermelon Lime Granita

This incredible dessert transforms two simple ingredients into the yummiest, healthiest summer treat EVER!

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Watermelon lime granita = perfection.

Who doesn’t love frozen treats? Growing up in Phoenix, my summers were full of Otter Pops, ice cream sandwiches, Popsicles, virgin strawberry daiquiris by the pool, and massive bowls of ice cream. My new favorite frozen dessert is granita, which I make almost weekly now that we’ve reached triple digit temperatures.

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Granita in the family of shaved ice, snow cones, sorbet and Italian ice   And while so many frozen desserts are full of fat and sugar, granitas can be made incredibly healthy, like this one. With just two ingredients, this 100% fruit treat is perfect. I can eat a massive bowl without guilt, and my son can enjoy it as a sweet treat without getting twacked out on tons of refined sugar.

Let’s make some watermelon lime granita!

Ingredients:

  • About 1/2 watermelon, preferably chilled
  • About 1/4 cup lime juice
  • Optional: Pineapple juice or sugar to taste (in case your watermelon isn’t sweet enough)

photo 1 Step one: Wash and cut up your watermelon into small cubes.  Wash, slice, and squeeze your limes.

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I like to cut my watermelon in half, slice it up, and then use a smaller knife to take all the flesh off the rind.

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Lime time! I used about five key limes for this. If you don’t have a citrus squeezer, I highly recommend investing in one. I bought this stainless steel squeezer online and I use it constantly.

Step two: Blend! Fill your blender with chopped watermelon and lime juice. Turn it on low, using a tamper to get the lowest pieces blended, which will help the rest of the fruit work its way down. Slowly increase it to high and blend until everything is liquefied.  If you don’t have a tamper, you can put a little bit of water or more juice (pineapple, grape, etc) in the bottom of the blender to get things moving. photo 4 Step three: Taste and adjust. Your watermelon-lime juice should taste sweet, tart and refreshing. If you find it’s lacking flavor, add some more lime juice and/or sugar (about a tablespoon at a time), blend again, and repeat the process until it tastes perfect. Make your granita as sweet and tart as you like! Instead of sugar, you can also add some fruit juice to bump up the sweetness. Pineapple juice would be amazing in this granita! In the end, my granita juice measured out to about seven cups.

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Blended watermelon and lime. Since watermelon is mostly water, there’s no need to strain!

Step four: Freeze and stir. Pour your juice into a large, shallow glass dish and pop it in the freezer. After about an hour, pull it out and break up any ice crystals (especially around the sides) with a fork or potato masher. Return to the freezer and continue to break up ice crystals every half hour. Within about two and a half hours, the granita will look like beautiful, pink watermelon snow. Note: Using chilled watermelon will help it to freeze much more quickly.

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Granita liquid poured into a 9 x 11 inch glass baking dish.

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After about an hour, the top and edges are frozen. Each time you take it out, break up any ice with a potato masher or fork.

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More freezing and stirring every 30 minutes and it’s looking more and more icy.

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Getting there!

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Summer snow! You can serve it at this point or let it freeze more. I didn’t have the time or self control to wait any longer!

Step five: Serve! Once it’s fully frozen and snowy, you can either keep it in the freezer for later or serve it right away. If it’s extremely hard, you’ll need to allow the granita to sit at room temperature for about ten to fifteen minutes. Break it all up one more time and spoon into glasses, cups or bowls. For presentation, add a sprig of fresh mint or basil or even some lime zest! Or for an “adult” version, serve it in a wine glass and throw in a splash of rum, tequila vodka or your favorite fruity liqueur.

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So there you have it! Watermelon lime granita—my new #1 summer treat. It’s an icy and delicious, virtually 100% fruit dessert that’s bound to please kids and adults alike. Enjoy!

Awesome fact: Did you know you can use a piece of watermelon rind as a mini-facial? Just rub the rind all over your face, and feel its tightening and moistening effects. You’ll be surprised to find your skin isn’t sticky at all (unless you rub the actual watermelon flesh on yourself).

Granita is Ellis's new favorite food!

Granita is Ellis’s new favorite food!

Spicy “refried” beans. Healthy, cheap, and riquisimos!

Refried beans are simply one of the greatest Mexican foods ever.

But do they really have to be so fattening? ¡No, señor!

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Who says you have to put fat in your beans?

Sure, I knew the word FRIED was in the name, but I never really realized how incredibly caloric refried beans were until recently. I remember being at the airport in California and seeing the calorie count on different burritos at La Salsa (which is a restaurant I’d never recommend), and my jaw dropped when I saw that one small bean burrito was over 1100 calories. Wide-eyed and horrified, my mind instantly flashed to the hundreds of deliciously lard-laden, eggplant-sized bean and cheese burritos I had consumed in the past few years, desperately trying not to calculate how much fat I had put into my body. After that moment I was forced to face the tragic reality that refried beans might have to be reserved for special occasions.

Potlucks at my house would not be complete without my friend Abraham bringing his mom’s phenomenal “frijoles puercos.” Frijoles puercos translates to “pork beans,” but they are ten million times better than American “pork and beans.” His mom’s frijoles are loaded with cheese, chorizo, and lard, making them one of the most rich and satisfying dishes EVER.

Addicted to those frijoles, for years I made my own version of that recipe, which I used to impress people and feel more mexicano. Then one fateful day I volunteered to bring my beans to a party, forgetting that several of the guests were vegetarians. Feeling trapped and impotent, I begrudgingly omitted all the meat, convinced it wouldn’t be as good. But in the end… BAM! It was still freaking delicious. After that, I never included puerco in my frijoles again.

If the frijoles were that good without pork, how would they be without cheese? It took me another couple of years to get the guts to take the risk and try it. But once I reached a point when I was trying to cut down on my dairy intake, I finally decided to take the plunge, replacing the cheese with something called nutritional yeast flakes. And guess what? It turned out awesome! (See my note about nutritional yeast at the end of this post).

Cumin, garlic, pickled jalapeños and some juice from a jar of green olives make these beans incredibly flavorful, and a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast finish off the dish to creamy, “cheesy” perfection. I still add real cheese sometimes for a weekend treat, but I’d say 95% of the time I stick with the vegan version, especially if I’m serving it with something rich. Try it both ways!

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You can buy these in a can, but we eat them so often we go for the giant jar!

We serve our healthy frijoles with some brown rice and roasted vegetables for a dirt cheap, incredibly satisfying dinner. You can also serve them with enchiladas, in burritos, as a bean dip for chips or with any other Mexican food.

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This was my dinner last night, and I have to say, it came out amazingly! The combination of textures and flavors was simply unbeatable. I know this is far from traditional, but the sprinkling of feta cheese was delicious on these beans! Best yet, the meal was incredibly inexpensive and easy to prepare.

 

 Recipe: Frijoles (Spicy, healthy “refried” beans)

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 cups dried, uncooked pinto beans OR five 15 oz. cans of pinto beans
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 cup pickled jalapeños and juice (use less if you are a wimp with spicy food)
  • ¼ cup green olive juice (optional—if you omit this, add more pickled jalapeño juice or more salt)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (do not add if you used canned beans)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes OR 2 ounces of cheese (cheddar, jack, mozzarella or any melty Mexican cheese)

If using canned pinto beans, drain and rinse the beans. If cooking from scratch, take two and a half cups of sorted, rinsed dried pinto beans and throw them in a slow cooker, adding with enough water to cover them by at least 4-5 inches. Turn it on low and cook for about 8 hours (I do this overnight or put them on in the morning). Once they’re cooked, drain the beans.

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2 1/2 cups of dry, uncooked beans before being cooked in the crock pot. Can you tell I have used this slow cooker a lot?

Place the cooked beans in a large pot over medium high heat. Add all other ingredients except for the water, salt and nutritional yeast flakes (or cheese, if using).

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Beans ready to be mashed with pickled jalapeños (and their juice), garlic powder, cumin powder, and green olive juice (a couple of olives got in there too).

As everything is heating up, take a potato masher and mash away. You can blend the beans for a smoother consistency, but I like them to retain some of their texture. I usually mash the mixture for about five to ten minutes while the beans are simmering. Add the water and continue to mash and simmer.

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Mash, mash, mash away!

Add the nutritional yeast flakes or cheese and stir until well incorporated. Taste the frijoles and adjust the flavor by adding the salt, more pickled jalapeño juice, olive juice, or spices.
Let the beans continue to cook until they reach your desired thickness. Remember that they will thicken more when they are chilled.

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Refried beans, oh how stunning you are.

Eat! Serve them with brown rice, roasted veggies, tortillas, eggs, chips, enchiladas, or anything else you want. These beans also freeze well, so don’t be afraid of making a big batch to have some stashed for later.

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A perfect dinner! Beans, rice, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, avocado, tomato , cilantro and a sprinkling of cheese.

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Note: Don’t be afraid of watery beans. If you add too much liquid, you can always just cook it down until the beans reduce and thicken. Traditional Mexican refried beans are on the runny side, unlike the canned varieties or what is often served in American Mexican restaurants.

I hope you enjoyed this recipe! Remember that a meal doesn’t have to be centered around meat to be protein-rich and super-satisfying!

Fun facts about beans!

  • In Spanish, the singular form of frijoles is frijol.
  • Pinto means “speckled” in Spanish, as pinto beans are light brown with dark brown specks and lines before they are cooked.
  • Beans are high in protein, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals.
  • Bean plants actually add nutrients to the soil they grow in.
  • Here’s a great link that explains different kinds of beans and how to cook them. It doesn’t include my slow cooker method, but it provides tons of great information! http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/food-guides/beans

Nutritional yeast flakes has to be one of the most unappetizing names for a food, but it’s really good, I swear! When I was in college, my vegan friends would use this stuff all the time when making anything “cheesy,” but I never really bought into the idea until recently. Now we always have some on hand. This stuff gives a cheesy, “umami” flavor to anything from soups, beans, pasta, or even sprinkled on popcorn! It’s full of vitamins and minerals, and I highly recommend giving them a try. Look for them at any natural foods store, where you might be able to weigh out as much or as little as you want. Remember that a little goes a long way.

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My New Addiction: Chocolate Date Butter

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Chocolate date butter with almond butter on toast, with fresh strawberries and on bananas with peanut butter

I have a sweet tooth.  My mom has one. My grandpa and great grandpa had one.  Translation? We are sugar addicts.

My “sweet tooth” is written in my DNA.  My great grandpa couldn’t get enough of his wife’s homemade pies, my granddad the dentist had a secret love for Twinkies, and my mom is famous for spraying whipped cream in her mouth straight from the can. What can we say? Sweets bring us pure euphoria.

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While I come from a long line of dessert-lovers, I am lucky to have grown up in a home where eating healthy was the norm.  My mom took our nutrition seriously, requiring we eat at least three to five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, which we reported to her at the end of the day.  We never drank soda, and sweet cereals were only allowed as a dessert.  But we did have our fair share of homemade pies, cookies, and ice cream.   And that’s not so bad, is it?

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When I was 21, I met my husband Simon, an amazing man who happens to be a trained baker and pastry chef—SCORE!!!!  He can make truly anything, so the past eight years have been stuffed with countless sweet adventures in food.  No meal was complete without an exquisite homemade dessert, just ask any of our family and friends!

Over the past holiday season Simon and I became more conscious of sugar’s effects on our bodies.  After one glorious serving of dessert, we feel the uncontrollable urge to go for seconds.  And sometimes thirds.  Then, soon after, our blood sugar crashes and we feel crappy and lethargic.  So what do we do the next night? SUGAR TIME!!!

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I have heard people say that sugar is more addictive than heroin.  I’m no scientist, nor have I done heroin, but it certainly works like a drug for me.  My aunt claims that if she has one tiny cookie, her body will force her to eat more and more until she spirals into a dark world of sugar spikes and crashes.  I can’t exactly say I’m that bad, but I have started to see the potential for me to become a full-fledged sugar addict.

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Sometimes feeling like crap after binging is the best inspiration to make a change.  So as we pulled ourselves out of the gumdrop swamps and crystalline sugar-trip of the holidays, Simon and I decided to challenge ourselves to go one month without refined sugar.

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Unsure we could make it a month without desserts, we sought out whole-food alternatives, and we found our new obsession—DATES!

medjool-dates

Medjool dates

Deglet Noor dates

Deglet Noor dates

Until quite recently the only way I ever used dates was to stuff them with chorizo and wrap them in bacon.  But in the past few months these heavenly fruits have become a staple in our home, and something we simply couldn’t live without.

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A date palm with fruit

Some might argue that dates are also filled with sugar.  They are.  In fact, they’re 80% sugar!  But unlike refined sugars such as white table sugar, corn syrup, and even agave nectar, dates are actually amazingly healthy.

Fresh, ripe dates

Fresh, ripe dates

Dates are super high in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and most importantly, they don’t make your blood sugar spike and drop. Here’s a link to a short video that talks a study on dates’ effects on our health:

I will share many recipes for desserts sweetened by dates, but I wanted to start with something, quick, easy and versatile—Chocolate Date Butter!  Seriously, it’s freaking amazing.  It’s one of those things that you think about and wonder how you ever lived without it.

My date butter recipe is an adaptation from a fudgy chocolate frosting recipe from the Forks Over Knives cookbook.

This chocolate date butter is everything.  It’s smooth, dark, rich, sweet, and creamy.  It’s got all the dates’ nutrients, fiber and sweetness, but it won’t make you crash like sugar does, and it won’t trigger the addictive response that refined sugar does.

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So how to we use it? Um… how DON’T we use it?! Here are some of our favorite ways to eat our Fudgy Chocolate Date Butter:

  • Spread it on toast with some almond butter and bananas (or make a sandwich!)
  • Blend it with unsweetened almond milk for a healthy version of chocolate milk
  • Use it to sweeten a chocolate-banana-peanut butter milkshake (recipe to come)
  • Spread it on fruit (berries, bananas, etc)
  • Use it as a base to sweeten healthy chocolate cookies (recipe to come)
  • Spread it on cupcakes, cake, or cookies
  • Mix it with almond butter for a chocolately nut butter (much better than Nutella, I feel)
  • Eat it with a spoon
  • Mix it with coconut oil, then coat strawberries or cookies and refrigerate to set.

Chocolate date butter + homemade almond butter = PERFECTION

Chocolate date butter + homemade almond butter = PERFECTION

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER!

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER!

 

Recipe: Fudgy Chocolate Date Butter

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cup pitted dates (Deglet Noor or Medjool)
  • pinch salt (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee

Preparation:

  1. Put water and cocoa powder in a blender and blend on high for about 30 seconds.  Scrape down sides.
  2. Add dates and salt to blender.  Blend, working from low to high until dates are creamy and smooth.
  3. Add vanilla and coffee and blend until well incorporated.
  4. Enjoy immediately or store and refrigerate.
Fresh, warm chocolate date butter

Fresh, warm, chocolate date butter

This will last at least two weeks in the fridge. But no jars of date butter have ever lasted that long in this house!

I couldn’ bear to waste what I couldn’t scrape out of the blender, so I threw in some almond milk and hot water to make an amazing glass of hot chocolate!

Hot chocolate made by blending almond butter and hot water with the remnants of date butter left in the blender

Hot chocolate made by blending almond butter and hot water with the remnants of date butter left in the blender

Two months after our “no refined sugar” goal, we now only have refined sugars a couple of times per month.  We have only just begun to explore the infinite uses for Chocolate Date Butter.  What other ideas do you have? Comment below! And don’t forget to subscribe, like, and share!

Interesting facts about dates (copied and pasted from Wikipedia!):

  • Dates are believed to have originated around Iraq, and have been cultivated since ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt, possibly as early as 4000 BCE
  • Date seeds are soaked and ground up for animal feed. Their oil is suitable for use in soap and cosmetics.
  • Young date leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart, though its removal kills the palm
  • Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names kimri(unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried).
  • Dates provide a wide range of essential nutrients, and are a very good source of dietary potassium. The sugar content of ripe dates is about 80%; the remainder consists of protein, fiber, and trace elements including boron, cobalt, copper, fluorine, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc
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Date palms in Phoenix (Phoenix is also the genus name of this amazing tree)

The Miracle of Almonds, Part 2: Homemade almond milk

Who knew you could milk a nut?

Creamy and delicious pure, homemade almond milk.

Creamy and delicious homemade almond milk.

Certain foods you just can’t make at home.  Or so I thought! Crackers, marshmallows, kimchi, even fresh cheese… I used to think there were things you just had to buy from the store.  But thanks to the internet, I have realized you can learn to make absolutely ANYTHING at home, no matter how exotic or complicated it may seem.  And besides the amazing feeling of achieving ” the impossible,” your homemade version is usually tastier, healthier, and more affordable in the end.

For me, learning I could make my own fresh almond milk at home was a life-changing experience.  Now there’s always a fresh pitcher  in the fridge ready to be enjoyed.  And best of all, my pure, homemade almond milk tastes exactly as I want–with no preservatives, gums, or fillers.

In my house we much prefer almond milk over cow’s milk.  We aren’t completely dairy-free, but in general, hormone and antibiotic-laden cow’s milk is something we try to avoid.   Almond milk, on the the other hand, is equally creamy and flavorful, but it’s a plant-based option full of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that won’t clog our veins or cause inflammation in our body.  We love it, and our toddler son Ellis loves it as well!

I’m not saying that store-bought almond milk isn’t a good option.  In fact, most brands add vitamins and minerals, which is great, but they also include sugars, preservatives, and other unnecessary stuff.  So why opt of the more expensive, processed option when you can make pure, amazing almond milk right at home?

 

For this recipe you’ll need:

  • One cup of raw almonds
  • Water (three to eight cups, depending on how rich you want the milk)
  • A glass, bowl, or other container for soaking the almonds
  • A blender
  • A large mixing bowl
  • A clean t-shirt or other cloth
  • Bottles or pitcher for storing

Optional ingredients to flavor your almond milk:

  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup pitted dates OR the desired amount of your preferred sweetener (agave nectar, sugar, etc)
Note: If you are accustomed to vanilla or “original” almond milk, you will probably want to sweeten it.
 

Step one: Soak your almonds.

Put one cup of raw almonds in a jar or bowl and cover with about a cup and a half of water.  Cover tightly and let sit in the fridge for at least eight hours and up to two days.  Soaking or “sprouting” your almonds for enough time activates enzymes and makes your milk nice and creamy.
Starting the soaking process: one cup of raw almonds plus about one an a half cups of filtered water.

Starting the soaking process: one cup of raw almonds plus about one an a half cups of filtered water.

 
 
Almonds and water after about 16 hours of soaking. Eight hours is long enough, but it doesn't hurt to let them soak longer.

Almonds and water after about 16 hours of soaking. Notice they have swollen up and are lighter in color.

Step two: Blend!

Pour your almonds and their soaking liquid into a blender.  If sweetening with dates, add those as well (make sure there are no pits!) Add another cup or two of water, put the lid on tightly and blend on high for about one to two minutes.
One cup of raw almonds, soaked, plus about three cups of water.

One cup of raw almonds, soaked, plus about three cups of water.

Creamy, pure almond milk. Almost done!

Creamy, pure almond milk. Almost ready!

 

Step three: Strain.

For a smooth, milky consistency, use the finest strainer possible–a t-shirt! A cheese cloth can leave some sediment in your milk, which isn’t so terrible, but if you prefer super-smooth milk (or if you plan on putting the milk in a baby’s bottle), definitely use a t-shirt or similar cloth (a non-terry cloth kitchen towel) to strain it.  Just place the shirt over a large mixing bowl and pour the milk in the middle, then carefully gather the sides of the shirt and lift.  With clean hands, start to squeeze and twist the shirt and voila! Beautiful, white almond milk!  Squeeze and twist to get as much liquid out as you can.
Freshly blended almond milk ready to be strained.

Freshly blended almond milk ready to be strained.

Straining with a t-shirt makes sure no sediment gets into the milk.

Straining with a t-shirt or similar fabric makes sure no sediment gets into the milk.

Start by grabbing two sides of the t-shirt.

Start by grabbing two sides of the t-shirt.

Carefully gather the sides of the shirt before lifting to ensure everything gets strained.

Carefully gather the sides of the shirt before lifting to ensure everything gets strained.

This part sort of reminds me of milking a cow, but you're milking a t-shirt and almond milk is coming out.

This part sort of reminds me of milking a cow, but you’re milking a t-shirt and almond milk is coming out.

Almost done. Keep squeezing and twisting to get it all!

Almost done. Keep squeezing and twisting to get it all!

Note: You can also buy a “nut bag” online or at certain kitchen stores instead of using a cloth to strain your milk.

Step four: Store your almond pulp!

Your fresh milk contains all the almonds’ great flavor, healthy fat, minerals and vitamins, but the pulp has all the fiber, which is a shame to waste.  Set the bowl of milk aside, then carefully open the t-shirt and scrape out the compressed pulp into a bowl.  Tightly cover it and refrigerate it until you use it in pancakes, muffins, cake, or my awesome healthy cookie recipe (coming very soon!).  If you prefer, you can also dry out the pulp in the oven by spreading it out on a cookie sheet and baking for about an hour at 275 degrees.  After letting it cool completely, grind the dried pulp in a coffee grinder and sift out any large chunks.  This is extra work, but it turns the highly perishable almond pulp into a high-fiber flour that lasts for months in the cupboard.
Fiber-rich almond pulp. Be sure to cover and refrigerate or dry out completely and grind into a flour.

Fiber-rich almond pulp. Be sure to cover and refrigerate or dry out completely and grind into a flour.

Step five: Taste the almond milk and adjust.

 Here’s where you have the most control of your final product.  First, add the desired amount of water to your milk to reach your preferred richness.  Just keep adding water little by little until it’s the perfect consistency, being careful to not dilute it too much.  Not sweet enough for your taste? Add some agave nectar or sugar to adjust.  What about throwing in some cinnamon and having an horchata-like beverage? It’s up to you.  To save space in the fridge, we like to make a rich, condensed almond milk (three total cups of water to one cup of almonds) which we then dilute when we use it.  Also, we keep ours unsweetened, but make yours as sweet as you like.
 

Step six: Store the milk.

 Use bottles, a pitcher, whatever you want, just be sure to tightly cover and refrigerate.  Since your almond milk is unprocessed and unpasteurized, you will need to consume it within about five days.  Also, don’t be alarmed if you see it separate or look like it has curdled.  Just shake or stir it up and it will go back to its creamy, beautiful appearance and texture.  YUMMMM.
Creamy and delicious pure, homemade almond milk.

Creamy and delicious pure, homemade almond milk. Try some out today!

Now it’s time to enjoy your delicious, pure, homemade almond milk! Here are some ideas on how to use it:
  • In a fruity smoothie (with berries, bananas, and peanut butter)
  • In a dairy-free milkshake (add ice, frozen bananas, dates, cocoa powder, etc)
  • In a glass alongside some delicious cookies (recipe coming soon)
  • With your favorite cereal
  • Mixed into oatmeal while cooking
  • In homemade healthy refried beans
  • In a creamy pureed soup
 
So there you have it!  Now anyone is capable of making their own fresh, delicious almond milk! Stay tuned for my recipe for awesome healthy cookies using the almond pulp, almond butter, dates, and other yummy and wholesome ingredients.  And remember, you can make anything from scratch at home, all you need is the desire to learn!
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The Miracle of Almonds, Part 1: Creamy Homemade Almond Butter

So creamy, so rich, so satisfying… and just two ingredients.

Almonds.  These amazing nuts are truly a miracle food that I couldn’t live without.  I have been eating almonds my whole life, but in the past few years I have gone from having them as an occasional snack to entering panic mode if our stock gets below a few pounds.  Versatile, healthy, and incredibly satisfying, almonds have become a major part of our family’s diet.  And with more and more people avoiding peanut butter and cow/soy milk, demand for this miracle nut is increasing every day.

Almond blossoms and fruit.

Almond blossoms and fruit.

You can find a huge assortment of almond butters and milks in the grocery store, but why buy it processed when you can easily make it at home?

About three cups of raw almonds.

About three cups of raw almonds.

Wait, what? You can make those at home? Oh yeah.  And besides being easy to make, homemade almond butter and milk are cheaper, tastier, and don’t contain fillers or preservatives like many of the store-bought varieties.  And better yet, you have full control of the ingredients, flavor, and texture.  Almond butter can be made smooth, crunchy, lightly sweetened or even with some toasted flax seeds.  Or how about making your own Nutella-like chocolate almond spread?  The possibilities are endless!

For now I’d like to share with you the miracle of creamy homemade almond butter.  Get ready to live.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • about three cups of raw almonds
  • an oven
  • a cookie sheet
  • a food processor
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional).
Step one: roast your almonds.  Spread three cups of almonds on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-13 minutes.  Once you start smelling the nuttiness of the almonds, you can take them out or let them toast a little longer for a darker, nuttier flavor.  Be careful not to burn them! I have done this before, and it’s a tragic waste.
Lightly roasted almonds (left) and raw almonds (right)

Lightly roasted almonds (left) and raw almonds (right)

When you take the almonds out of the oven, let them cool for about five to ten minutes.  Now you have crunchy, exquisite toasted almonds for whatever you prefer! Snacking, cookies, a frozen nut pie crust (all coming soon), or best of all, some amazing almond butter!

Note: you can also buy pre-roasted almonds to skip this step, but I highly recommend toasting them yourself.

Step two: Throw the toasted almonds in a food processor (one of the most essential and worthwhile kitchen appliances).
Within ten minutes these toasted almonds will be creamy almond butter.

Within ten minutes these toasted almonds will be creamy almond butter!

Step three: Press “on.” Let’s make almond butter!  The process takes about ten minutes, and the almonds go through many stages.
After about 1-2 minutes: starting to stick together a little. Push the sides down with a spatula.

After about 1-2 minutes: starting to stick together a little. Push the sides down with a spatula.

After about 3-5 minutes: Getting more and more sticky! It will form into a ball and seem like it's never going to get mixed… but be patient!

After about 3-5 minutes: Getting more and more sticky! It will form into a ball and seem like it’s never going to get mixed… but be patient!

After about 5-7 minutes: Past the "blob" stage, looking more creamy. Scrape the bottom to make sure everything gets evenly incorporated.

After about 5-7 minutes: Past the “blob” stage, looking more creamy. Scrape the bottom to make sure everything gets evenly incorporated.

After about 8 minutes: Almost there! I like mine a little creamier than this.

After about 8 minutes: Almost there! I like mine a little creamier than this.

After about 9 minutes: Perfection. Add the salt and continue a minute longer. Salt is optional, but I think it adds a lot to the final product.

After about 9 minutes: Perfection. Add the salt and continue a minute longer. Salt is optional, but I think it adds a lot to the final product.

After about 10 minutes: Ta-da! You're done!

After about 10 minutes: Ta-da! You’re done!

Step four: Store it.  Be sure to scrape out every little bit.  You can store your amazing, homemade almond butter in whatever you want, perhaps a re-used glass jar from store-bought almond butter.  I put mine in a jar I bought when I made peach preserves a while ago.
Check out how smooth and runny it gets! And all just two ingredients--almonds and salt.

Check out how smooth and runny it gets! And all just two ingredients–almonds and salt.

Smooth, creamy, rich and delicious... I love almond butter.

Smooth, creamy, rich and delicious… I love almond butter.

Step five: EAT! Here are just a few ideas of how to use your almond butter.
-Spread it on multigrain toast (try topping it with sliced bananas or some honey, or making it into a breakfast sandwich)
-Use it as a dip or spread for fruit (sliced apples and bananas are my favorites)
-Mix a spoonful into hot oatmeal and add your favorite sweet treats–honey, maple syrup, or my fudgy chocolate date butter (coming soon!)
Eat it by the spoonful.  I’m serious, go ahead.  But remember, while healthy, this is not a low-calorie food.
-Cookies: I’ve recently developed an awesome recipe for healthy cookies using almond butter instead of butter, dates instead of refined sugar, and a healthy blend of whole grain flours.  They’re super satisfying, healthy, and you don’t feel like crap after eating them! You can find the recipe here soon.
Creamy almond butter on multi-grain toast with sliced apples and decaf green tea. A super-satisfying, healthy and balanced breakfast.

Creamy almond butter on multi-grain toast with sliced apples and decaf green tea. A super-satisfying, healthy and balanced breakfast.

But wait! There’s more! 

Try some fun variations of your almond butter.  Before storing,  stir in other ingredients to make your almond butter as creative and awesome as you.  

  • Crunchy: Add about 1/4 cup of finely chopped toasted almonds.
  • Crunchy with toasted flax seeds: Same as “crunchy,” plus toasted golden flax seeds.  To toast: put about 1/4 cup flax seeds in a medium-hot skillet and stir or shake occasionally until they’re toasted and you can smell them, about five minutes.  Let them cool before stirring them into the almond butter.  YUM.  This has an amazing texture and flavor.
  • Other ideas: Stir in some maple syrup, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, molasses, or some fudgy chocolate date butter.
What are your favorite ways to use almond butter? Comment below!

Some fun facts about almonds:

  • They’re healthy!  Almonds contain healthy monounsaturated fats that can actually lower cholesterol.
  • In Iran, people snack on tart, salted  “green almonds,” which are picked before they develop their shell.
  • They are also a great source of vitamin E, dietary fiber, B-complex vitamins as well as manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium, and a ton of other stuff I can’t explain.
  • Almonds are native to the Middle East where they have been cultivated for centuries.  But wild almonds, also known as “bitter almonds,” are poisonous.  Luckily, all almonds sold in the US are the cultivated “sweet” variety.
  • Almonds are gluten-free, and their flour can be made into tons of delicious desserts like this incredibly moist orange almond cake: http://swatibansalrao.com/2013/02/04/gluten-free-orange-and-almond-cake-with-orange-scented-mascarpone/

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Join me next week for the Miracle of Almonds, Part 2: Homemade Almond Milk.  Don’t forget to follow, like, and share!

Best Guacamole Ever!

Perfect guacamole ready to be devoured.

Perfect guacamole ready to be devoured.

Creamy, tangy, spicy, and just so damn good!  Guacamole is simply the perfect food.

Like many people, I have been eating guacamole my whole life, and I have tried every variety imaginable, from the freshest and most delicious, to guacamole’s less fulfilling cousin “avocado dip.”  But once I learned to make it the authentic Mexican way, there was no going back.  On many occasions I have eaten guacamole and chips as a meal, and no, I’m not apologizing for it.

Guacamole has been enjoyed in Mexico for centuries, where pre-Columbian cultures like the Aztecs and Mayans ground local ingredients into sauces using a molcajete, a hand-carved basalt rock mortar and pestle.  Now guacamole is enjoyed around the world, especially in my house!

Most guacamole recipes contain the same general ingredients: avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime, jalapeño, and salt.  Some recipes also call for cumin and hot sauce, and some less than authentic recipes even call for mayonnaise or sour cream (gasp!) It is really up to you to decide what to include, and you can even get creative by throwing in other ingredients, like some fresh pomegranate seeds for an unexpected burst of flavor and texture.
For me, it’s all about those first eight ingredients.  And besides that, it’s all about the (extremely simple) preparation technique.

You see, if you just stir all those eight ingredients together, your guacamole will be pretty good. But you want your guac to be more than just good.  You want people to taste it and say, “Holy crap, that is the best guacamole ever!” as you smile to yourself and think, “I know.”

Here’s the problem: stirring in the the onion, garlic, jalapeño and cilantro, does not allow the flavors to be fully incorporated in the guacamole. Sure, if you bite into a piece of onion, you will taste it, but you want the flavor to be mixed throughout.  The remedy is surprisingly simple:

And the secret to the best guacamole ever is… salt!  And specifically, when and how you use it.  We know that salt draws moisture out of foods, right?  Now lets make that work to our advantage. Once you have diced or minced your onion, jalapeño, garlic and cilantro, throw them in a bowl or molcajete and cover them with a generous amount of salt (enough to salt the entire bowl of guacamole) and stir it up.  You will notice that within seconds, the mixture will start to get wet with all the flavorful juices being released.  Let this sit for at least five to ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  If you have a molcajete or mortar and pestle,I highly recommend grinding this up into a beautiful, salty, juicy pulp.  Now add your lime juice and set this aside.  The flavors you just released will be the heart and soul of your guacamole.  I am already hungry just thinking about this…
Diced onion, minced garlic, and diced jalapeño doused with salt to bring out the flavorful juices.

Diced onion, minced garlic, and diced jalapeño doused with salt to bring out the flavorful juices.

Salty juicy pulp of onion, jalapeño, garlic and salt, after resting for 5 minutes and then smashing in the molcajete.  Smashing is optional but helpful.

Salty juicy pulp of onion, jalapeño, garlic and salt, after resting for 5 minutes and then smashing in the molcajete. Smashing is optional but helpful.

Cilantro I smashed into a pulp using the molcajete.  I forgot to add it to the onion mixture.

Cilantro I smashed into a pulp using the molcajete. I forgot to add it to the onion mixture originally.

(Remember to not include the tomatoes in the above step, as salting them would make them soggy).

Avocados cut in half lengthwise.

Avocados cut in half lengthwise.

Here comes the fun part-mashing the avocados! Now is a perfect time to ask a kid to help you.  They love smashing up the slimy green avocado, and will be more interested in eating it if they participate in the preparation.  Toss the avocado flesh in a bowl or molcajete and smash until it is as smooth as you like it (I like mine on the smooth side).  You can use a fork, potato masher, or any other kitchen tool you want.
Avocados mashed to the perfect texture.

Avocados mashed to the perfect texture.

Now just throw in your juicy, salty onion/garlic/jalapeno/cilantro/lime mixture with the mashed avocados and stir until well combined.  Finally, add the diced tomatoes and test for salt.  Guacamole requires a good amount of salt, but remember–if you are eating it with salty chips, be careful to not over-salt the guac.
The finished product.  Yum!

The finished product. Yum!

You can store this in the fridge or just eat it right away.  Letting it rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes to an hour can help the flavors meld even more.  If you do store it, be sure to cover it tightly with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the guacamole so there is no air to make it oxidize.  There is nothing appetizing about brown guacamole!
Time to eat! Devour your guac with chips, tacos, burritos, on a sandwich, with eggs, or just by the spoonful.  But remember, guacamole disappears fast, so if you want to serve some with a meal as well as with appetizers, be sure to stash a good amount for later.
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If you have the luxury of being able to use a molcajete to make this, I highly recommend it.  The molcajete imparts a subtle difference in flavor and texture, making the final product simply amazing.  It is also a perfect serving dish and a wonderful way to pay homage to the ancient Aztecs, who used molcajetes to make their guacamole, (or ahuaca-mulli, as they called it).  As I grind things up in my molcajete, I like to think of all the people centuries back who made amazingly delicious dishes with this same tool.  But luckily for me, I can fantasize about being an ancient Aztec chef without worrying about being sacrificed to the gods. Yay!

Enjoy!  Please leave me comments and questions.

Guacamole served with some blue corn chips, tostadas, and beer.  What more could one ask for?

Guacamole served with some blue corn chips, tostadas, and beer. What more could one ask for?

Some interesting facts:
  • Avocado comes from the Aztec word, ahuacatl, which means “testicles.”  Not so hard to figure out why… It is also supposed to be an aphrodisiac.  Pass the guac.
  • Avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fats and no cholesterol.  I don’t think tortilla chips have “healthy fats” in them though.
  • The correct Spanish pronunciation of the word “guacamole” does not contain a hard G sound or an “eee” sound at the end. It sounds more like “wacamoleh.”  But say it however you want.
Recipe:
 
Guacamole
  • 1/4 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or more, if necessary)
  • 1-3 teaspoons of freshly-squeezed lime juice (not bottled)
  • 2-3 large avocados, seeded and flesh scooped out
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  1. Combine first four ingredients in a bowl or molcajete, stir, and let sit for five to ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  If using a molcajete, mash up this mixture into a pulp after 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add lime juice to mixture and stir. Set aside.
  3. Place avocado flesh in a bowl or molcajete, and mash to desired consistency using a pestle, fork or potato masher.
  4. Add the salted mixture into the mashed avocados and stir.  Add diced tomatoes and stir.  Taste and add more salt and/or lime juice if desired.
  5. Serve immediately or store in the fridge, covered tightly, for 30 minutes to an hour to let flavors meld.   To store, press plastic wrap onto the surface of the guacamole to ensure no air remains.   Enjoy with chips, tacos, or anything else!

Note: You can adjust the ratio of ingredients to your liking.  I don’t normally measure, so this is just a general idea of the amounts of each ingredient.