Winter Market Bounty

It’s 11:45, I’ve got a nice hot cup of tea with soy milk, and I’m ready to do a little blogging.

One of the things I like to do when I write about things is include photos I’ve taken of whatever the thing is. Sometimes I’ll find a picture online, but I prefer to use my own.

Unfortunately, the battery in my little Canon Elph camera has completely lost its will to live. No amount of charging will get the battery to power up the camera. This leaves me with no working camera except for the one on my iPad. I think we all know that iPad cameras, especially those of the second generation, are not known for their quality results.

This is a sad situation, because I have vegetables from the indoor winter farmers’ market last Saturday, and I wanted to take nice pictures of them to share here. I did take photos, but they’re not up to my standards.

Winter vegetables are basically my favorite vegetables, so I get very excited about the winter markets. Some of them are in greenhouses, which are rather chilly, but the one nearest us is held inside a high school, so it’s very comfortable to meander through the crowd and ogle the goodies.

My husband, Chris, told me on Saturday that he wanted to get “twenty pounds of potatoes.” He really has developed a taste for them. He likes it when I boil whole fingerling potatoes in salty water, and then he smashes them on his plate with the back of his fork and covers them with Earth Balance buttery spread. That’s apparently his favorite way to eat potatoes.

As for myself, I like them cut into chunks and oven roasted with olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, and rosemary. (I got the basic formula for that from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.)

Anyway, I told him it was unlikely that we’d be bringing home twenty pounds, but that if he insisted, he could be the one to carry them.

We didn’t get twenty pounds, but we got a substantial haul.

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Those are gold potatoes, which are my favorite, since they have a melt-in-your-mouth creaminess when cooked.

My selection of potatoes included these bad boys:

IMG_1872I got them for the sake of challenge, and because they amused me. I do love a large, oddly-shaped vegetable. A couple of years ago I found the largest rutabaga I’ve ever seen, before or since.

The farmer’s market netted us some mouthwateringly sour rye bread, some adorable savoy cabbages, a bag of pea shoots for Chris’s salads and wraps, and some onions, as well as assorted root veggies.

This year we tried daikon radishes for the first time. Well, I should say that he tried them. I’m not a radish-lover. I gave them a sniff, and decided they smelled too hot for me. They’re supposed to mild, I believe, but I haven’t been brave enough to try them yet.

We also picked up some more reasonably sized rutabagas, as well as some parsnips.

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That photo didn’t turn out too badly for an iPad photo. It’s all about lighting.

I don’t have photos of the savoy cabbages, but I did roast them up in wedges according to a recipe I found online. I should really have taken the extra step and made the vinaigrette to go on the cabbage quarters, but they were lovely and tender even without the dressing.

My next plan for these tubers is to make a creamy (vegan) root veggie soup with the rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes, and some carrots. I’ll be using my new copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible to help me decide which herbs and spices I’ll use.

Just thinking about it is making me hungry. It’s also lunchtime, so that makes sense. I think I’ll wrap things up here and go rustle up some grub.

 

 

 


The Almond Butter Incident, Part 2

If you’re just joining us, check out The Almond Butter Incident, Part 1.

Experimenting is always a risk, but I find experimenting with food extra tricky. I prefer not to waste any, in fact I’m quite determined not to, so I’m always worried that my efforts will end up completely inedible and not even suitable for the compost pile. (That’s hitting rock bottom, right there.)

Keep in mind that stubborn refusal of mine to throw something away and start over.

I think the only thing that could have gone worse in the initial stages of this little science project would be if the blender had actually broken.

I had thawed out another few bags of almond pulp, and so I was ready to begin. I put the pulp in the blender, and armed with my Blendtec cookbook, opened to the almond butter recipe, added some safflower oil. I did not have the peanut oil recommended by the recipe creator, so I just went with what I had on hand.

I added salt, and as instructed, started the blender at Speed 1. I readied myself to increase the speed up to 9 after 15 seconds had passed. (You know, feet apart, knees flexed, finger pointed at the button.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 2.25.47 PM

All that happened was that everything got packed at the bottom and the sides, and the blades spun freely, with the motor making that noise that says “don’t let me keep doing this noise for too long, or you’ll be sorry.”

I added more oil.

Same result.

I added more pulp.

Same result.

I don’t know how many minutes went by during this stage. My husband was brusquely informed to not attempt conversation, lest he risk having my rage directed towards him and not the general kitchen situation.

I added whole almonds, in the hopes that, well, it would magically fix whatever the problem was. It did not.

I dumped out the whole shebang into a glass baking dish, then put fresh almonds on the bottom of the blender, and picked out some whole almonds from the utter mess in the dish. Then I plopped the oily almond pulpy mush back on top of the almonds in the blender. I added some coconut oil for good luck.

Not exactly the same result, but similar enough.

At this point, there was almond pulp all over the counter, and me, and the outside of the blender. There was so much oil in the mixture — both kinds — that it must have been worth thousands of calories.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up. I wanted to punch someone. Fortunately, Chris was staying out of my way.

It finally occurred to me, after actually adding water to the blender, that there was probably too much water in the pulp right from the beginning.

image credit: Flickr user Chuck Coker

Thus begins phase 2.

I decided to try the method I used before, drying the pulp out in a low oven. This time, however, I had pulp + whole almonds + a whole lotta oil. I did not know how it was going to turn out.

Just for grins, I got out another bag of unadulterated pulp, and spread that out onto its own tray. I now had three trays of almondy mess, and I slid them all into the oven at 225 degrees F.

At this point, I knew I needed to step away from the scene for a little while. I can’t remember what I did while the almonds were drying. Maybe I blacked out.

Approximately two hours later, with intermittent checks and stirrings, everything was dried out to my satisfaction. I had a full tray of almond meal that I could later grind up into a finer powder if I so desired. I put that away in a nice jar, added a cloth teabag full of rice to help further dehydrate everything, and placed it nicely in the fridge. That had gone well, at the very least.

happy, unassuming little jar of almond meal

happy, unassuming little jar of almond meal

Then, it was time for the final battle, the moment of truth, the crucible.

I poured the slightly toasted mixture of oily almonds, in variously-sized pieces, with considerably less water than previously, into the blender.

When I pressed the “Speed Up” button, it was like the planets finally aligned. This was clearly what was meant to have happened all along. The magic of physics (and perhaps chemistry, I can’t be sure) whirled around in my blender.

I sped up the blender to the highest setting, number 9. It’s a little scary to run the Blendtec at 9. It’s pretty much warp speed.

image credit: deviantart user 94081lego

I lifted the lid after it seemed like it had gone on for quite long enough, thank you. Et voilà, what do you know? It totally looked like almond butter. It even smelled like it. It was hot, but I tasted it, and, boy did it ever taste like almond butter.

I felt like I had just invented the wheel or created fire. I know many have gone here before, but how many have tried as hard as I did? Very few, I suspect.

I poured most of it into a leftover Vegenaise jar (handy things to keep around). It looks pretty nice in there, almost like real almond butter.

the result of overnight refrigeration

the result of overnight refrigeration

I poured what was left of it into a smaller jar, and immediately sat down with an apple and a knife and my little jar of magic. I had myself a feast. The coconut oil made it extra delicious and special.

So, now I know I can do it. The question is, would just the dried pulp with oil do the trick, or do I have to create havoc in order to end up with almond butter? Should I perhaps just start with whole almonds like a normal, sane person?

The thing is, I still have plenty of frozen pulp to use up.

I could be using that freezer drawer for so many other things.

I could be using that freezer drawer for so many other things.

At the very least, I can use the pulp in the recipes I’ve already successfully made, and I have contacts who can provide me with plenty of other almond meal uses.

I really want to use it to make almond butter, though. Why? Because almond butter is the bomb. It blows peanut butter right out of the water. Also, organic almond butter is crazy expensive. Like, $25 per pound expensive. The incentive to make it at home is considerable.

There’s no way to know ahead of time if the dried pulp will work. I could ask the internet, but she’s tricky and conniving, and cannot always be trusted.

I suppose I’ll just have to experiment.

Find a sunny spot for a photo op, and there also you will find a cat.

Find a sunny spot for a photo op, and there also you will find a cat.


The Almond Butter Incident, Part 1

I’ve been keeping busy working on the continuing stream of house remodeling projects, as well as trying to keep our living areas clean during the process. I am going to paint some window trim shortly, but right now I’ve got a cup of tea to drink, and I’m going to tell you about the almond butter incident.

This story, which will be kind of long, goes back to a time before we bought our house.

We were living in a small apartment, and had just bought our Blendtec blender — a lovely machine, by the way.

image source: Blendtec.com

One of the first things I made with this blender was homemade organic almond milk. This was very exciting.

Of course, I’m married to a man who could live off of cereal alone and be happy. He goes through a lot of it. I barely eat one or two bowls of cereal per month, but we are always buying cereal, it seems.

He also likes to drown his cereal in milk. His milk-to-cereal ratio per spoonful is drastically different from my own.

This means we go through a lot of milk, which is non-dairy milk, in our case (crazy vegans that we are). Homemade almond milk goes pretty quickly, and that can get costly when you’re using organic almonds, which we do.

image source: Wikipedia Commons

 

The second problem (because I’m counting costly mass consumption as a problem) is a direct result of the first — copious amounts of almond pulp from straining the milk. What to do with it all? Well, stick it in zippy bags and pop ’em in the freezer, that was my solution.

Soon our above-the-fridge freezer was about 50% full of frozen almond pulp, and the other 50% was whatever else we could manage to squeeze into it.

I tried putting the pulp into muffins and granola, but it really only slightly depleted our stock. I finally drew the line and said we had to stop creating more of this byproduct until we could find a way to use it up as quickly as we produced it.

When we moved to our new house, we brought along bags of frozen almond pulp in coolers.

Recently, however, I discovered that this pulp can actually be dried out and turned into almond meal, or even almond flour, if ground up later. How exciting is that?! That, my friends, is what we call a game changer.

almond pulp leftover from making milk– photo credit Stephanie Kimball via Flickr

Shortly thereafter, I decided to try eating gluten-free for a while. I’ve since added gluten back into my diet, but am eating much less grain-based food and trying to steer away from wheat most of the time. I do a lot with brown rice and other grains. I’ve made brown rice flour and white bean flour, which I sometimes use to make sauces or baked goods.

My husband and I got a hankering for apple pie recently, and I said, how about a crisp? I’m sure I could find a gluten-free crisp recipe, and then not have to mess about with a gluten-free pie crust. (Regular pie crust can be a harsh mistress as it is.)

I stumbled upon the Minimalist Baker website and found their gluten-free and vegan apple crisp (hooray!), and wouldn’t you just know it — it called for almond meal!

Then I remembered that lurking about the internet, on a website I used to frequent, there exists a recipe for cauliflower that is oven-roasted with almond meal and nutritional yeast. I’d been meaning to make Dreena Burton‘s Almond Roasted Cauliflower for a while, and just never had the almond meal.

Ha! As it turns out, I had it all along – it was just much more hydrated than it needed to be. Also, it was frozen. Both of these are very surmountable obstacles.

And so, after letting it thaw in the fridge for a day or so, I set about drying out one of my bags of pulp in a low oven, outside the bag, of course, spread out on a cookie sheet.

I ended up having just enough for both recipes, with a touch leftover. I made the cauliflower as part of dinner, and the crisp for dessert… and the peasants rejoiced.

I knew I was on to something. It was time to experiment with more almond pulp. I thought to myself, if I can make almond meal out of almond pulp, why not almond butter? Almond butter is, according to my brother-in-law, what happens when you make almond meal from whole almonds and you blend/process for just a little too long.

Photo credit Yun Huang Yong via Wikipedia Commons

Certainly, it couldn’t be that difficult.

 

It doesn’t happen often, but… well…

Sometimes, I’m wrong.

 Click here for The Almond Butter Incident, Part 2