Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Almond Milk

So my darling husband has decided to do his first Whole 30! The Whole 30 is a kind of detox where you do nothing but eat whole, non-processed foods, while eliminating food groups known to irritate the gut, so that your body has time to heal from any inflammation that your current diet is causing you. After the 30 days, you then begin reintroducing foods one at a time to see what it is that causes any kind of negative reaction in your body. It's pretty darn awesome, and can be a challenge, but I'm helping him out. Mostly by eating up all the cheese and wine in the house, but you know, some cooking, too!

Some of the foods you have to eliminate on a Whole 30 are dairy, grains, legumes, added sugar, alcohol, oils like vegetable, canola, and corn oil, baked goods and sweets (even paleo treats!). One of the things you've got to eliminate is carrageenan and that is found in most almond milks and has been linked to digestive issues and intestinal problems. So what's a Whole 30er to do?

Here's what I pinned:

To make this recipe I headed off to pick up some raw, organic almonds and cheesecloth. That's pretty much all you need to get. You've got to start by soaking the almonds for 24 hours. This serves two purposes. One is to get them nice and soft and easier to blend. The other reason is that by doing this, you remove much of the phytic acid, which makes the minerals in the almonds not useful to our bodies. Soaking them also releases some really good stuff. like the enzyme lipase, that helps us digest fats.

Here are my 1 cup of almonds and some water, all ready for their soaking! I just rinsed them, then added enough water to cover them. They're going to expand a bit, so put a little extra water. You'll be getting rid of it anyway.

I left them on the countertop for the 24 hours with a glass plate on the top and a note CLEARLY stating this was an almond milk project, not to be disturbed! 

They really puffed up! I was expecting them to get bigger, but not as much as they did, and not to take up as much water as they did. Cool! The water that they had been sitting in had turned a bit brown, so I dumped all that out, gave them a rinse and got on with the next part.

I don't have a Vitamix. I want one! I really do. But the Ninja is what I've got... and it's not even a new Ninja. But it works and it worked out for this recipe. So if that's all you've got, don't worry. Just don't try to cut corners and soak them for less time. You're going to need the almonds as soft as can be.

I decided that since the Ninja didn't have the most powerful motor that I would only do half of the almonds and water at a time. The recipe calls for 4 cups of filtered water, so I put about two in with half of the soaked almonds.

I blended them up for about a minute and a half. I wasn't sure how the Ninja would take it, so I started with pulsing the almonds, but the second time around, I just went straight to blending. They were soft enough and the Ninja handled it like a champ.

Next came the straining and this is where it got tricky. Now, if I had three arms, this would not have been a problem. Being that I don't have three arms, I tried a couple of different things to hold the cheesecloth on to my pot so that I could still use my "free" hand to pour the almond milk through. 

I did manage to get one good picture of what it looked like while I was straining the almond milk. This took some creative posturing, elbows, my chin and a very dexterous hand to get this shot for you. I really need an assistant.

After I had gotten the first batch through, I gathered up the cheesecloth and pushed what I could through, so that I got the most I could out of my creation. The cheesecloth I used was spent, so I cut another piece to use. 

The second batch was easier to whip up, due to my extensive experience. However, that false sense of confidence got me in trouble. Some of the non-strained milk fell into the pot, just when I was about to be done! So I had to strain the whole batch one last time. I cut another piece of cheesecloth and decided to strain it back into the Ninja pitcher. I tied the cheesecloth onto the handle and held the other side. I could then use my actual free hand to pour the almond milk through the cheesecloth!

I learned a lot while making this batch. This wastes a lot of cheesecloth. I tried looking for a nut bag at New Seasons Market, kind of like a mini Whole Foods, but they didn't have any. I should have just ordered one in advance, but I was anxious to try this out. I plan on ordering one soon, because cheesecloth will not happen again. I'm probably going to get this one since it has some really great reviews on Amazon. 

There was also a lot of almond pulp left over and supposedly you can dry it out in your oven at it's lowest setting (about 200 degrees Fahrenheit) and turn it into almond meal. I saved it and will try it out. It was late when I made this though and was too tired to cook anything else.

The Sprout LOVED the almond milk! He hates regular milk (I don't blame him!), but this was a hit! He asked for a second serving! He even got a little almond milk mustache, just to make him even cuter.

I'll continue to document our Whole 30 recipes. Pinterest has been a great help, but I am going to pick up the books. There's two that you might consider if you're thinking of doing a Whole 30 yourself.

It Starts With Food is the original book to come out not only explains the Whole 30 in detail to you, but helps you understand the reasons behind each of the things you'll need to eliminate from your diet and how to reintroduce foods once you're done.
It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways

The newest book on the Whole 30 hasn't even hit the shelves yet, but is available for pre-order. It will be released on April 21st, and if you've ever pre-ordered anything on Amazon before, you know that you may even get it a day early! No guarantees, but it will at least arrive by it's release date.
The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom

Monday, April 6, 2015

Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Copycat Recipe

I would be lying if I said that this is was the first time that I attempted this recipe. I fell in love with this soup in my high school days and as soon as I knew enough about cooking on my own, I tried it. Back when the internet was shiny and new, I looked online to see if I could find a recipe that would at least come close to the soup I knew and loved. I did find a few different ones, but very few. Today, the internet is saturated with recipes and you can find a huge number of variations on this soup. I distinctly recall finding this recipe and not knowing what kale was! Oh, the days before kale became a thing... times were simpler then... but they're tastier now!

Here's a pin to a recipe that's similar to the one that I first found:

Here are the ingredients I gathered for this attempt:

In this photo you can also see my original recipe card that I wrote down, stained with many different versions of this soup! If you want my version of this recipe, here it is:

1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, crumbled
1/2 lb. smoked bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (or use the pre-chopped kind in the jar!)
1 qt. water
2 - 14.5 oz cans chicken broth (or you can sub boxed broth for this, I usually do now.)
2 large russet potatoes, cubed (organic potatoes are all I buy now, and so they're usually small, use 3 or 4)
2 cups kale, chopped (Be generous with this! Eat your greens!)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper to taste

And in the picture there is my Blue Moon First Peach Ale... my cooking companion for the night. Delicious! There's also a can of biscuits that will not be making an appearance in this blog post. They were burnt. My bad. Ordinarily these Immaculate Baking Company Buttermilk Biscuits are an excellent companion to this soup. Don't burn yours.

I do most of my shopping at Sprouts Farmers Market, simply because I can buy all of the basics there and some of the specialty stuff most people go to Whole Foods for, and not have to take out a home equity loan to pay for it. I picked up some of their Hot Italian Pork Sausage and got to work on cooking it up!

You can get the bulk sausage if it's available or just use the link sausage. Simply remove the casing if you want to use the links. It cooks up pretty quickly, so keep an eye on it.

Meanwhile, cut your potatoes up into cubes... Or cube-ish shapes. I'm no prep work master, so this is my translation of cubed:

After your sausage is cooked up, put it on a paper towel to drain (If you skip this step, you'll have a bunch of unappetizing grease floating on the top of your soup. It won't be inedible, jut not as pretty). Then cook up your bacon, let it drain on paper towels, then chop it up and try to not eat up too much of the delicious bacon goodness! 

Saute your chopped onions until they're translucent, toss in the garlic and let it get aromatic. Then toss in your broth (or stock. Stock tastes gooooood.), water, and potatoes. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it all simmer until the potatoes get tender (about 10 minutes).

After the potatoes get soft (but not mushy) add in the bacon and sausage and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add the cream and kale, stir, then serve it up! 

This soup hits the spot every time. It's one of my favorite cold weather soups, but who am I kidding...I love it in all weather! Olive Garden soup in my yoga pants at home with my Hulu subscription, because I'm classy like that. Enjoy making your own Zuppa Toscana. Experiment with hot/sweet Italian sausages, different kinds of potatoes, kale, etc. It's always good. Just don't use bacon bits. That's a damn shame. Make some bacon.