Making Ethical Butter

Vegan butter!

Vegan butter!

I’ve labeled myself an ‘ethical vegetarian’ for nearly two decades.  I stopped eating animals when I became horrified at the dichotomy of having glue traps under the house to catch wild rats and mice (and any poor, poor animal that happened upon it, such as lizards. Glue traps are horrendously cruel. I hadn’t put them there.) and a cage with an exercise wheel and specialty food for ‘pet’ mice in the bathroom. Justice is a man-made effort, and by not eating animals I was no longer approving of mass torture by buying into it. Although I no longer ate animals, I have still indulged in animal products, namely dairy products. Slowly it has sunk in how badly animals are treated for those, too. As someone who loves cooking, it has been difficult for me to wean away from dairy products. Butter is especially difficult. Unlike hens who have been bred to continuously lay without needing the services of a rooster, dairy cows must be lactating to produce milk. Cows are usually artificially inseminated, then after giving birth their calves are replaced by milking machines. The calves are most often slaughtered for veal. This process is repeated until the cow is used up from the constant pregnancies and lactating, and then she is slaughtered. This horrible practice is disguised by advertisements showing happy cows grazing in fields. That is a fantasy. ‘Grass fed’ and ‘pasture raised’ are sly terms that give you an image that is nowhere near to the truth. Please read Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma to understand where your food comes from and why.

To find an acceptable butter substitute has been an expensive and frustrating endeavor.   For awhile I used a dairy substitute from Trader Joe’s, who I swear keeps tabs on what I buy the most and then discontinues it. All other butter substitutes either taste horrible, can only be used for spreading, or more commonly contain palm oil. The sudden fad for palm oil has created extreme clearance for the growing of palm in the areas which are habitat for the orangutan; indeed, if we don’t curtail our consumption of palm oil quickly the orangutan will go extinct within our lifetimes.

I finally found a recipe for a butter substitute that works pretty well for both spreading and baking. It is made mostly of refined coconut oil. At this point coconut oil is sustainably produced – please make sure that you support companies that do so. Refined organic coconut oil has no flavor or scent; unrefined has a mild coconut flavor and a toasted coconut scent. If you are using a batch of this butter for baking where coconut flavor is desired, then use the unrefined.

This recipe is by no means my own. I found it and a detailed description of the science behind it at VeganBaking.net . There are several options listed and a lot of cooking science behind the butter.

The mouth-feel is amazingly creamy and satisfying.

The mouth-feel is amazingly creamy and satisfying.

I used the basic recipe, Regular Vegan Butter, Coconut Oil Base. The recipe calls for curdling the soy milk, which will drive the butter flavor. I tried the full teaspoon of cider vinegar, then half cider vinegar and half coconut vinegar, then just half a teaspoon of coconut vinegar, and finally no vinegar, and thus no curdling, at all. I found for my taste that the vinegar flavor carried through and was much too dominant. Even at just half a teaspoon it was so noticeable to me that I didn’t like it on toast. It was good, however, when my daughter used it on sourdough and topped it with fresh avocado. The slight vinegar flavor enhanced the avocado deliciously.

The batch I made without vinegar seemed perfect. The mouth-feel of this butter with or without the vinegar is creamy and all that a high-fat butter should be. It looks, cuts and spreads like butter. The flavor is creamy and very mild, almost like a slightly salted sweet butter. This was a winner for me. For the soy milk I used Trader Joe’s Organic Plain, which does have some sweetener in it. I’ll try with an unsweetened plain organic soy milk another time.

I keep my butter on the counter. I know that organic butter holds its shape better in the heat than processed butter, but both stay stable unless the temperature is in the 80’s. Coconut oil melts at 76F, and in my summertime Southern Californian kitchen, this vegan butter must be kept in the refrigerator. The butter is hard when needed, so the next batch I will take the author’s advice and swap out a tablespoon of coconut oil with regular oil to make it more spreadable.

I wanted to test the butter in cooking and baking. I melted it in a pan and cooked eggs and other breakfast items in it successfully. I used it on toast and on mashed potatoes with great success. The experiment with shortbread cookies went wrong, however, but I don’t think that that was the butter’s fault. These were lemon rosemary shortbread cookies, and contrary to my baking sense I followed the author’s (another blog) directions and didn’t sift the powdered sugar before adding it. There were lumps, therefore, in the batter and I mixed it extra to try and beat them out, which I believe was responsible for making the cookies tough. They were flavorful, but not crumbly. Oh well, I’ll just have to try again! The cookies rolled out, cut, and baked well, retaining their shape and performing as well as with cow’s butter.

Shortbread didn't spread using this butter, which was great.  I don't have a finished photo of the lemon-rosemary cookies because,  well, they were eaten.

Shortbread didn’t spread using this butter, which was great. I don’t have a finished photo of the lemon-rosemary cookies because, well, they were eaten.

As with all substitutions, there is always a difference and vegetarians and vegans have to embrace it. Of course fake bacon and ground ‘meat’ is not quite the same: the great part is that it is far more healthy for your body (lower fat, few preservatives if any, often organic, and not the pesticide-drenched and drugged animals that people eat) and doesn’t perpetuate the extreme cruelty to animals about which humans have become nonchalant. Yes, other animals aren’t kind when feeding off of other animals (those which aren’t vegetarians). Yet we as humans have the option the others don’t, to make eating choices.

Here is the basic revised recipe; please see the original blogpost on VeganBaking.net and give the options a try. I found xanthan gum from Bob’s Red Mill at my local grocery store, and liquid lecithin and coconut vinegar online through Amazon.com.

You can double or triple the recipe with no problem!  Enjoy.

Recipe update: I’ve since made some changes to the recipe, exchanging some vegetable oil for some coconut oil for more spreadability, and adding a little more salt for a more satisfying (to me) taste when spread on toast.  I’ve been using this butter for a month now, and have noted that: when melting in a hot pan it will brown faster than regular butter, so keep the temperature down, that it will melt and separate at room temperature (its summer now, so the kitchen is usually in the 70’s – in the winter it will be different) so I keep it in the refrigerator.  I found butter stick molds that have the teaspoon markings along the side, so I’ve made 8x the original recipe and poured it into the butter molds, then wrapped each unmolded stick  in wax paper and frozen them.

Vegan butter sticks with teaspoon markings along the side for ease in baking.

Vegan butter sticks with teaspoon markings along the side for ease in baking.

I’ve also poured it back into the cleaned coconut oil jars and frozen them, keeping one in the refrigerator for unmeasured use.  I’ve used it along with a non-dairy creamer in the  Chocolate Ganache recipe and it is very chocolaty, but not as rich as the original.  Part of that is due to the creamer; heavier creamer will produce creamier results, but in no way was it disappointing.  It was very tasty, but not as heavy.  When refrigerated it didn’t solidify as much as the other, so more chocolate might need to be added depending upon the type of creamer used but it was still spreadable and yummy.

Ethical Butter
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Vegan
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
A wonderful vegan butter with no palm oil, but lots of options. My version is without curdling the soy milk. Please see the original excellent post for more explanations and options.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup + 2 teaspoons organic plain soy milk
  • ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt (I increased the total salt to ½ t. for spreading butter)
  • ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (130 grams) refined coconut oil, melted to room temp. (For more spreadability, I used ½ cup coconut oil and changed the 2T and 1 t to vegetable oil, along with the following 1 T for a total of 2 Tablespoons and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.)
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or light olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon liquid soy lecithin or liquid sunflower lecithin or 2 ¼ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum or ½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder (I used xanthan gum)
Instructions
  1. Combine soy milk and salt in a food processor or blender.
  2. Melt the coconut oil until it is just room temperature and barely melted.
  3. Add the coconut oil and the rest of the ingredients to the soy milk.
  4. Blend or process for about 2 minutes on low.
  5. Pour into ice cube trays, or into butter molds or trays.
  6. Freeze until firm, about an hour.
  7. Serve.
  8. Keep wrapped in refrigerator for a month, or frozen for a year.
  9. Makes one cup.

 

 

Plum Clafoutis!

Plum clafouti.  Yum.

Plum clafouti. Yum.

OMG!  How could I not have told you about clafoutis yet?  If you have ripe plums, peaches, apricots… any stonefruit… and you need something to do with them, this is it!  Clafoutis (clow-FOO-tee) is a baked dessert (or breakfast!) that is simple to make and absolutely yummy.  Ripe fruit, especially those that are a little too ripe to eat fresh because of the texture, is topped with a flour and custard batter and baked.

Serve plum clafouti warm or at room temperature.  So yum.

Serve plum clafouti warm or at room temperature. So yum.

The result is firm enough to not gross out those who don’t like the texture of custard (like my daughter), not too sweet, and makes the flavor of the fruit bloom in your mouth.  This is different than Plummy Skillet Cake, which is also wonderful.  Of course clafoutis

Because of its simple ingredients and low sugar, clafouti is wonderful for breakfast, shown here along with asparagus and soy sausage.

Because of its simple ingredients and low sugar, clafouti is wonderful for breakfast. Peach clafouti is shown here along with asparagus and soy sausage.

is good with ice cream, but just powdered sugar on top for decoration or plain is fine.  You can make it with liquid egg substitute and non-dairy milk substitutes; I used our hen’s eggs and organic soy milk.  Plums are absolutely delicious in a clafoutis, but we’ve used peaches and apricots as well with great results.

Plum Clafoutis
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert or Breakfast
Cuisine: French
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
A simple and delicious baked fruit dessert.
Ingredients
  • (You can halve the ingredients and bake in a square pan instead)
  • ¼ cup butter (or veg oil or coconut butter)
  • Pitted plums cut into thin wedges (think what size you like to bite into) (five cups)(you can use a mixture of stonefruit, too)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, divided (you can eliminate or reduce this amount if you like a tart dessert, if your fruit is very sweet, or use a sugar substitute)
  • 4 eggs or equivalent liquid egg substitute
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (or a mix of other flours)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (opt)
  • 1 cup milk or milk substitute
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Move oven rack to the middle and heat to 400F.
  2. Place butter in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and put in oven to melt butter.
  3. In a medium bowl, toss the plums with ¼ cup sugar.
  4. With oven mitts, remove hot dish from oven and swirl melted butter to coat bottom and partially up the sides.
  5. Spread plums evenly on bottom of baking dish.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until blended.
  7. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining ¼ cup sugar with the flour and salt.
  8. Whisk the sugar and flour mixture into the eggs.
  9. Whisk in the milk, vanilla and almond extracts.
  10. Pour the batter evenly over the plums.
  11. Bake 40 - 45 minutes until the clafoutis is lightly browned and the center has puffed up.
  12. Cool on a wire rack.
  13. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve warm, plain or with ice cream. Or hard sauce. Or whatever you like. Use a French accent when announcing dessert.
  14. Eat within a couple of days or it becomes soggy.
  15. Store covered at room temperature.

 

Melon Pie!?!

 

Melon. Pie. Nom.

Melon. Pie. Nom.

It is melon time in the garden.  Fresh green melons served with a little lime juice, or fresh orange melons served with a little lemon juice, are just heaven.  When you have too many melons, it is time to look for things to do with them.

Last year we froze melon slices in a mild sugar syrup.  This worked well when using the melons in something; the texture was too goopy for eating fresh with any pleasure.

This year I found a recipe in my Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog for melon pie.  Melon pie?  I did a little Googling on the subject and found a lot of melon pie, cake and bread recipes.  Who knew?  Well, not me anyway.

This recipe works for any melon, the more fragrant the better.  It was written for Mother Mary’s Pie Melon, an heirloom that we grew this year. It is small and fragrant, and just makes the right amount of melon the recipe.  The version of the recipe in the catalog – which is also in their book The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook – is vegan. I’ve changed it to vegetarian and you can do what you want with it.  The cookie-like crust paired with the creamy yet firm filling is wonderful.  Top it with a little whipped cream!  They suggest topping with toasted coconut, but I’m not that much of a coconut fan.  However I could really see this topped with merangue, like a lemon merangue pie.  Yep.

Melon Pie
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
A fragrant, yummy pie with a perfumy melon flavor and crisp cookie crust.
Ingredients
  • Crust:
  • ½ cup butter or vegan alternative
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar (or white)
  • 1¼ cups unbleached flour (organic if possible)
  • Filling:
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch (organic if possible)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1½ cups cubed melon, liquified in blender (makes 1½ cups)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons butter or vegan alternative
  • 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Prepare crust: beat butter and sugar in mixer until fluffy.
  2. Add flour and mix thoroughly.
  3. Press into bottom and sides of a 9" pie pan.
  4. Bake crust at 375F for 10 - 12 minutes until lightly browned.
  5. Meanwhile, stir sugar and cornstarch together in medium saucepan and set aside.
  6. Blend egg, melon and water together until smooth.
  7. Over medium heat, gradually stir melon mixture into cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and begins to boil, about ten minutes. Don't rush!
  8. Reduce heat and cook 1 minute more.
  9. Remove from heat and stir in 3 T butter and lemon juice.
  10. Pour into pie shell, cool and then refrigerate at least an hour before serving.
  11. Serve with whipped cream... or not.

 

Black Plum and Basil Granita

Basil plum granita 008This is an interesting and delicious way to use some of those plums that ripen overnight.  Basil is also in season, and combining it with the heavenly, winey flavor of ripe black plums is amazing.  If you grow other types of basil such as lime basil or cinnamon basil, use those instead, reducing the lime juice to 1 tablespoon.

Granita is juice that is partially frozen, forked around a little, then refrozen.  You don’t need an ice cream maker.  Easy, quick and nutritious, too!

Black Plum and Basil Granita
Author: 
Recipe type: Desert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8½ cup servings
 
Basil and allspice give a wonderful depth of flavor to winey black plums in this frozen treat.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 6 whole allspice (if you don't have allspice berries, use a small piece of cinnamon stick)
  • 1½ pounds black plums, pitted and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ¾ cup basil leaves (not packed)
Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan combine water, sugar, vanilla, salt, allspice and prepared plums and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the plums begin to fall apart.
  3. Pour into a small bowl set in ice water in a larger bowl and cool completely.
  4. Fish out and discard the six allspice.
  5. In a blender or VitaMix process plum mixture, basil and lime juice until well blended.
  6. Press the plum mixture through a fine sieve over a bowl and discard solids. If you have a VitaMix you may not have any residual solids; the granita will be cloudier but will be more nutritious. Don't worry about it.
  7. Pour the mixture into an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish.
  8. Cover and freeze until partially frozen, about 2 hours.
  9. Scrape with a fork, crushing any lumps, and smooth down again.
  10. Freeze for 3 more hours, scraping with a fork every hour so that it doesn't freeze as a cube, until completely frozen.
  11. Serve in small scoops; really nice paired with little vanilla cookies.

 

Spicy Chocolate Squash Bread

 

Cocoa + squash + habinero = YUM.

Cocoa + squash + habinero = YUM.

My collegiate daughter needed a recipe to use up leftover frozen kabocha squash.  She found a chocolate kabocha bread recipe, adapted it for ingredients she had on hand, and sent me the recipe.  I’m such a proud foodie mom: this is the first recipe she’s sent to me.  She had substituted yogurt for the oil, and only had cinnamon as a spice, but really liked the results.  She said that it was kind of like hot chocolate in bread form; not too sweet and not too plain.  Hot chocolate in bread form?  I’m so there.

Today has been cold and a little rainy. My shoes and socks were wet from standing in wet grass trying to coerce my 100-lb tortoise back inside his heated room before he became too cold to move.  I had some thawed pink banana squash puree leftover from making pumpkin scones for my son last weekend.  It was so squash bread time.

I had all the spices, but I changed them up a little.  I added some freshly ground nutmeg in place of some of the cinnamon.  Due to conversations with others in my exercise class about eating fresh homegrown fruit with chili pepper and other warming spices sprinkled on them (spring fantasies!) I thought I’d heat up this recipe, too.  Before Christmas I purchased some habinero powder at Old Town Spice Merchants in Temecula, and fell in love with their habinero sugar which they sprinkled over samples of dark chocolate brownies.  I added some habinero powder to this recipe and it is fantastic.

The loaf took an hour and five minutes to bake.  It was slightly crispy on the crust and dense, moist and dark on the inside.  Yet it wasn’t cloyingly heavy or too wet.  The cocoa flavor was satisfying; too often cocoa recipes taste as if the chocolate was just a coloring rather than a flavoring. This was good.  The spices were just enough and not overpowering.  The habinero powder was just right, making just a little heat in the mouth that really accented the chocolate flavor and warmed me up from the inside.  I am freezing the rest of it, just so I don’t eat any more today.  It was really wonderful, and it had vegetable in it, too!  Thanks, daughter of mine!

I’m sure you could eat this with cream cheese, marscapone cheese, or dust it with powedered sugar, but it doesn’t need anything.  Not even, apparently in my case, a fork or plate.  So much for dieting today.

Spicy Chocolate Squash Bread
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Like spicy hot chocolate in bread form.
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon habinero powder (or ¼ teaspoon if you like it spicier. It will be a slow warm heat in your mouth)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1⅓ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil or plain yogurt
  • 1 cup squash or pumpkin puree (or plain canned pumpkin)
  • 1 large egg
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease and lightly flour an 8½ x 4½ inch loafpan.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients.
  4. In a large bowl combine the oil, puree and egg until well combined. Beat in dry ingredients until well blended. (If using electric mixer, beat on low speed. You don't want a lot of air in the batter).
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  6. Bake 350 degrees F for 1 hour and five minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool on a wire rack for fifteen minutes then cut around loaf and turn out onto a plate or wire rack.
  8. Serve warm, or any way you'd like to!
  9. (Options: serve with cream cheese, marscapone cheese, or dust with powdered sugar. It is also great drizzled with chocolate frosting (what isn't?) or with chocolate ganache. Both recipes can be found on my blogpost on Buttermilk Chocolate Ganache Cake).

 

 

Delicious and Fun Thai Custard-inna-Pumpkin

Thai Custard-inna-Pumpkin

I know that you lose sleep over trying to figure out how to get more vegetables into your dessert.  Well, snuggle up for a good long snooze, because here’s a recipe to bring you peace!  I found this recipe in the Heirloom Gardener Winter 2012- 2013 edition.  The magazine is created by the people who bring you Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (organic).  A wonderful article about Thai cooking by Wendy Kiang-Spray features this intriguing recipe, and I had to try it.  You hollow out a small Thai or Kabocha squash (they are drier in texture), fill it with a coconut milk custard, steam it, and Bob’s your uncle!

Scoop out the seeds and fibers and feed them to your chickens!

I just happened to have a 2.5 lb homegrown Kabocha squash handy, so I made the recipe (adding a little cinnamon).  Not wanting to be scared alone, I brought the whole cooled squash over to my friend Lara’s house, who helping me fulfill last year’s New Years resolution by teaching me basic piano.  Being a vegetarian and a loyal friend, she was game to try it.  It came out very good.  I was impressed.  I will do this again!

Troubleshooting:  whisk the ingredients together.  I thought I’d be fancy and put them into my VitaMix on the lowest setting, but even that added a little too much air to the custard mixture.

Don’t fill all the way up. Steam the lid off to the side.

The top of the custard that I could see was yellowish, and I figured that this was due to the dark yolk in the eggs from my chickens, but I don’t know.  Once cut into, though, the custard as a lovely white.

I turned my steamer on high until it was boiling, then turned the temperature down low and the custard wasn’t done in the allotted time.  Next time I’ll keep it at a higher boil so that the steam is hotter.  I cooked it much longer (I think too long because I was doing other things) and the squash split a little as it was very soft.  I kept it in the steamer with something between the soft side and the inside of the steamer so that the squash would keep its shape as it cooled.  After it was room temperature, I put it in the refrigerator for a short time and it the squash didn’t fall apart when I removed it.

Creamy coconut custard and dry delicious squash.

Ms. Kiang-Spray states in her article that this recipe is known in Thailand as Sankaya and is a classic dessert.  With all the eggs and tasty squash, I’d call this breakfast or lunch, too!

Thai Custard-inna-Pumpkin
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Thai
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
A simple, fun, lovely dessert that people will remember as they get their beta carotene.
Ingredients
  • 1 2 -3 pound dry-fleshed squash such as Kabocha or Thai pumpkin.
  • ¾ cup coconut milk
  • 5 eggs (preferably at room temperature)
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Bring two quarts of water to a boil in the bottom half of a steamer pot.
  2. Use a cup to trace a circle around the top of the pumpkin.
  3. Cut the lid off around the guideline.
  4. Hollow out the inside with a spoon, making sure to get all the fibers.
  5. In a bowl gently whisk until combined the rest of the ingredients.
  6. Place the squash into the steamer basket.
  7. Pour custard through a sieve into the pumpkin leaving an inch to the top (filling will rise).
  8. Include the squash lid next to, but not on top of, the squash.
  9. Steam covered and undisturbed for 55 minutes until a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean.
  10. Remove steamer basket from over heat and allow squash to come to room temperature.
  11. Slice into wedges (in front of admiring company!) and serve.
  12. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

 

Awesome Candy Alert: Cayenne and Cashew Brittle

 

Spicy brittle

I’m not big into candy; give me cake, pie or bread, or a good rice pudding instead.  However I’ve made this brittle at Christmas for years now, and it is always a big hit.  The cayenne makes a nice mild burn to counter the sweetness of the brittle.   Cayenne is good for you, too, as are cashews (no matter how creepy it is that cashews grow!), so it makes sense in some distorted way that this candy is good for you.  It is so easy, too. I have much less salt tolerance than the general American public.  If I eat out I find myself desperately thirsty for days.  The original recipe was made for high salt intake, but I have shown options on cutting it back.  You don’t need it, for the delight of the candy is in the burn with the sweet.  I also don’t like very hot (spicy) foods, but I like this.  Make some and try to share.

Cayenne and Cashew Brittle
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
A yummy easy-to- make brittle with a slow spicy burn.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups unsalted roasted cashews, whole or pieces (you can use salted, but I don't)
  • 10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) butter (if using salted cashews, use unsalted butter)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
Instructions
  1. Butter a nonstick baking sheet and set aside.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a large nonstick skillet.
  3. Stir mixture over low heat until the butter melts and the sugars dissolve.
  4. Increase heat to medium and boil.
  5. Stir constantly until mixture turns golden brown, thickens and masses together, about 5 minutes (if you cook it longer it won't be as shiny; too little and it will be soft but still yummy).
  6. Immediately pour candy out onto the prepared baking sheet and quickly spread evenly using a spatula to help.
  7. Cool completely.
  8. Break into pieces.
  9. Makes about 1⅓ pounds

 

Preserving Squash and a Terrific Pumpkin Chai Recipe!

 

Beautiful patterns on the banana squash shell.

Four sugar baby pumpkins that I’d kept for myself, and three pink banana squash, were all in need of preservation.  They were not keeping well due to the warmth of our hot San Diego county Fall. During a rainy break in the weather I did something about it.  You can preserve cooked pumpkin and winter squash best by freezing it.  If you have a pressure canner you may can pureed pumpkin  or pumpkin pieces in liquid, but since I only use the water bath method that wasn’t an option.

Even sugar baby pumpkins can be difficult to cut when raw. There’s a better way!

Roasting a squash isn’t difficult at all.  In fact, you only have to wash it, put it on a tray in a 350F oven for  about an hour (longer if its a really large pumpkin), and then slice when cooled.

Roasting a whole pumpkin makes the scooping so easy!

Its easy to scrape out the seeds and then spoon out the cooked flesh out of the hardened shell.  This is what I did for the sugar baby pumpkins.  There was too much banana squash to fit whole into the oven, however, so I cut them into chunks, scooped out the seeds, covered them with aluminum foil (it helps steam them) and baked 350F for forty-five minutes.

Three banana squash is a lot of squash

I have more details here.  I also roasted the pumpkin seeds.

Then I had a lot of squash to puree!  These squash and pumpkins were dry, so I added a little water to the VitaMix and tossed in the chunks.

Pumpkin and seeds.

I pureed batches until smooth, then spooned cups full into freezer bags.  My pumpkin scone recipe calls for only half a cup, so I froze one-cup batches, as well as two-cup batches for pie.  The secret to ‘vacuum-packing’ freezer bags is to close the top of the bag around a straw and then suck all the air out.  It really works well, and is kind of fun, too.

Get a straw, suck out the air and presto: vacuum packed!

However, the best thing that happened out of all this squashing was that I had a little less than a cup of pureed roasted squash left in the VitaMix, too little to freeze and really irritating to scoop out.  It was a cold day and past lunchtime.  I had an idea and spooned in what was left of some Chai tea mix, poured in vanilla soy milk, blended it until it warmed up and sat down to drink.  Heaven!  I’m not one for pumpkin flavored things, but this was the real deal.

Pumpkin puree.

It was so good that the next day I took a cup of the pureed squash that I refrigerated, poured in 1 1/2 cups of vanilla soy milk, a touch of orange syrup left over from candying orange peel, added cinnamon and blended until it was hot.  It was thick, satisfying, a little sweet, spicy and full of beta carotene, fiber, protein and other good things.  I’m sure you can do the same thing with canned pumpkin and other liquids, such as milk, rice milk, almond milk or coconut milk.  If fact, I insist that you try it.

Hot Yum!

Pumpkin Chai
Author: 
Recipe type: Beverage
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
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Serves: 2
 
Cold or hot, spiced pureed pumpkin or squash mixed with the milk of your choice is extreme comfort food that is actually terrific for you!
Ingredients
  • 1 cup cooked pumpkin or squash puree, fresh or canned.
  • 1½ - 2 cups vanilla soy milk, or milk of your choice. (Less for a thick drink).
  • ½ - ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice or up to 1 scoop Chai tea mix.
  • Sweetener (optional); a natural syrup would do or honey.
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla (optional)
Instructions
  1. For cold pumpkin chai mix all ingredients briefly in a blender or VitaMix.
  2. Taste to adjust seasonings, thickness and sweetener, and serve.
  3. For hot pumpkin chai, heat milk and add to the rest of the ingredients in a blender and process. If you have a VitaMix, you can add all cold ingredients and then process until it is hot.

I’m going to make some more for me right now.

Caramel Ganache Shortbread Bars

Just because I don’t post as often as I ought to, doesn’t mean that I’m not always preparing for posts.  I take lots of photos, look up lots of data and try lots of recipes.  Many recipes are researched, tweaked, photographed, made and turn out… icky.  For instance, the no-bake  cookies of last week that were only firm enough to cut at refrigerator temperature.  At room temperature they turned into a pan of chocolate sludge, and at freezer temperatures they were too hard to cut.  I have found, to my dismay, that many food bloggers post recipes even if they don’t turn out well, just so that they have something to post.  I’m learning to read and heed the disclaimers.

The recipe I’m about to impart to you is not a fluke.  It is, frankly, heavenly.

At a baby shower a few months ago I ate a bar cookie that was supposed to taste like a Twix candy bar.  It was very good with its layers of shortbread, caramel and chocolate.  I asked for the recipe and reproduced it at home.  The recipe called for crushed pre-made cookies (the Keebler elves had made them, apparently) topped with melted caramel candies (unwrapping all those little buggers took time), and spread with melted milk chocolate chips.  The result was tasty, but I couldn’t get over the store-bought flavor of the shortbread.  This cookie has three simple flavors that need to complement each other, and since I don’t usually eat store-bought baked goods, it took some adjustment for my palate.  However, they froze very well and defrosted quickly.

Ganache, baked shortbread and caramel mixture beginning to boil.

Then I found a better recipe.  And then I made it perfect.  It is a basic shortbread cookie crust, topped with a simple homemade caramel, then topped with chocolate ganache.  The driving impetus for this improvement was that I had leftover heavy cream in the fridge from making homemade ice cream, and needed to use it before it went bad.  The ganache topping adds a bright, lighter flavor which keeps the cookie from being cloying.  Yum.

Eat a small piece with some hot tea and be very, very happy.

 

 

Caramel Ganache Shortbread Bars
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 16
 
Chocolate ganache atop firm homemade caramel and buttery shortbread. What else is there to say besides it is quick and easier than you may think.
Ingredients
  • For shortbread:
  • ⅔ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • For ganache:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet or milk chocolate, in small pieces
  • For caramel:
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the ⅔ cup butter, granulated sugar and flour until crumbly.
  3. Press the sandy shortbread mixture into a 9-inch square baking pan.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes or until shortbread begins to lightly brown around edges.
  5. Meanwhile make the ganache. In a small saucepan combine heavy cream and 4 tablespoons butter.
  6. Bring mixture to a simmer.
  7. Turn off heat and add chocolate, swirling to cover all the bits.
  8. Cover pan and let sit for about 5 minutes until chocolate is melted.
  9. Stir until smooth and creamy and set aside (don't refrigerate).
  10. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine ½ cup butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk.
  11. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for five minutes.
  12. Remove from heat and beat quickly with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes.
  13. Pour caramel over baked crust (warm or cold).
  14. Cool until caramel begins to firm, or chill.
  15. Pour ganache evenly over firm caramel.
  16. Cover dish with plastic wrap and chill completely in refrigerator until very firm.

Two Sure-fire Zucchini Recipes

Zucchini plants are like cats:  They both look harmless when small, so you think the more the merrier.  One plant is always enough, but it is hard to plant just one seed in case it doesn’t come up.  Then the sprouts are hard to thin.. what if something eats it?  Then before you know it, there are five enormous plants growing giant green clubs in the dead of night, just after you’ve checked all the plants.  Well, that’s my situation anyway.  Too many cats; too many zucchinis.  When there are enough all at one time, we’re taking them (the zucchinis, not the cats) to the Fallbrook Food Pantry along with pumpkins and tomatoes.  Until then, we’re exploring new ways to eat them.  And I refuse to sully cheesecake with zucchini! (yes, there is such a recipe!). 

My son who is studying Culinary Arts at the University of Hawaii sent me a link to smittenkitchen.com with an exceptional zucchini pancake recipe… not sweet, very light and completely tasty.  I’ll include my version.  But first I want to explain my ‘discovery’, which everyone but me probably knows about anyway. 

SAUTEED ZUCCHINI

 I had grated zucchini for bread and had some left over.  It was dinnertime and I was alone, so I experimented.  I heated a skillet with a little olive oil in it, threw in the grated, undrained zucchini, and stirred it around on medium-high heat for about five minutes.  When it was beginning to wilt and brown a little on the bottom, I sprinkled sesame oil on it lightly, and then gave it a touch of Bragg’s Amino Acids, which I use for many things.  A light soy sauce may substitute, but Bragg’s is high in nutrition, low in salt and a wonderful flavoring.  Buy it online or in health food stores.  The zucchini came out tasty and with a mouth-feel of wet wide noodles.  It was fantastic.  I’ve since made it for my daughter a couple of times, and each time we wanted more!  Imagine that!  On the plus side, it used up a medium zucchini.

  You really must give these pancakes a try. 

 

Fabulous Zucchini Pancakes
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
A light, flavorful, really good pancake that uses up a lot of zucchini and tastes like zucchini bread.
Ingredients
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
  • ¼ cup buttermilk or soured milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
  • Oil, for coating skillet
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl whisk eggs, olive oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Stir in zucchini.
  3. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Stir dry ingredients into zucchini batter, mixing until just combined.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Heat oil or butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.
  7. Scoop ¼-cup rounds of batter in pan so they do not touch.
  8. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  9. Flip pancakes and cook another minute or two.
  10. Keep pancakes warm in on a tray in the oven set on low or in a toaster oven.
  11. Repeat with remaining batter.
  12. Serve warm with or without traditional pancake toppings.
  13. Pancakes freeze well.