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.

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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


Oven-Roasted Carrot and Ginger Soup with Maple-Balsamic Tempeh

I watch a lot of cooking shows.  I am addicted to Chopped and Iron Chef America, and I really enjoy watching Master Chef when it’s on.  I know a lot of it is contrived drama and sneaky editing, but I watch it for the cooking, not for the reality-show aspect.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to watch, like when they feel the need to actively kill an animal on air, but usually I can try to overlook all the animal products and just appreciate the techniques and flavor combinations that the chefs use.  I have picked up some great tips by watching these shows.

On one episode of Master Chef, the contestants all had to prepare a meal by cooking things on a pizza stone.  I paid close attention, because I happen to have a pizza stone, and don’t make too many pizzas.  I do use it to bake cookies and the occasional loaf of free-form bread, and I’m always looking for new ways to employ it.

One of my favorite cooks on the show, Monti, made a highly-praised soup from carrots she had roasted in the oven on the pizza stone.  I don’t even remember what anyone else made, because I was so captivated by this idea.  It looked wonderful, and I wanted to try it, but they don’t provide recipes on the show.

Last time I went to the farm store, I stocked up on a lot of carrots, because I had plans to attempt my own personal spin on Monti’s soup concept.  Yesterday, I decided to go for it and keep it simple.  I whipped up some marinated tempeh strips to put into the oven after I took out the carrots, so I’ll include that recipe as well.

For the soup, I used:

  • about 3 or 4 medium-large carrots
  • 1 Tbsp organic canola oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened organic soy milk
  • 1 Tbsp Ginger People ginger juice, equivalent to 1 Tbsp fresh ginger or 1 tsp dry ground ginger)
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (our favorite is Grade A dark amber)

First, I preheated my oven to 375F, with the pizza stone in it.

I cut the carrots into 1- to 1 1/2-inch chunks, then halved those chunks lengthwise.  Then I (carefully) arranged the chunks flat side-down on the stone and put it back in the oven.

ready to rock

I roasted the carrot chunks for 45 minutes, until they were pretty tender when I tested them with a sharp knife.

all roasty-toasty, and smelling fine

When the carrots were done in the oven, I warmed the canola oil in a soup pot on the stove, to just under medium heat.  I added the carrots, stirred to coat them, then poured in the water and soy milk.

I brought the liquid to a boil, then reduced the heat to the “simmer” setting on my dial, just above low, and covered the pot.  I let it bubble gently for about 20 minutes, until the carrot chunks broke apart easily with a wooden spoon.

Once the carrots were soft, I used an immersion blender to puree the soup as smooth as I could get it.  This is a little perilous with hot liquid, so you have to be careful to keep the moving blade under the surface of the liquid if you don’t want to get splashed.  Once I had it as smooth as it seemed like it was willing to get, I added the ginger juice and maple syrup.  Roasting the carrots brought out a lot of inherent sweetness, so 1 Tbsp of syrup was plenty, and didn’t cover the natural carroty taste.

For the tempeh, I used:

  • half of an 8oz package of Lightlife organic soy tempeh
  • 2 Tbsp organic canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • a few dashes of liquid smoke (approximately 1/8 tsp)

I cut the tempeh along its width into four strips, then turned those strips on their sides and halved them lengthwise.

Next, I mixed the remaining ingredients together in an 8×10″ glass baking dish, then laid the tempeh strips in the liquid and turned them over to coat them.

After I took the carrots out of the oven, I put the baking dish in, and let the tempeh strips cook for 15 minutes.  Then I took them out and flipped them over, reduced the heat to 350F, and put them back in for another 15 minutes.  They were done before the soup was, so I just turned the oven off and let them stay warm in there until I was ready to serve everything.

the final result!

So, that’s what we ate for dinner last night!

Idon’t normally like to toot my own horn, but the soup came out pretty excellent.  My husband and I each had a small bowl, and there was enough left over for about two more.  The tempeh wasn’t quite as flavorful as I would have liked, but was still tasty and complimented the soup nicely.

I normally don’t post this many recipes.  It’s just fall, working its magic on me, inspiring me to spend more time getting crafty in the kitchen.  I hope these posts inspire some of you as well!