...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


My New Love

Drying almond meal to grind into "flour"
Can I tell you that I'm in LOVE with almond meal ("if you love it so much, then why don't you marry it?" the childhood taunt rings through my head)?  And as a friend pointed out today, there are so many wonderful ingredients in this world that we wouldn't find under normal circumstances.  So thank goodness for my need to go gluten-free; I might not have discovered this alternative, low-carb flour otherwise.  When I first started using it I made crackers and a pizza crust and found them to be very delicate and too sweet, respectively.  So I had low expectations for almond flour.  It wasn't until the last month or so since I've been trying to use more of what I have on hand that I was forced to refer to my almond flour cookbook in order to do some baking without going out to buy ingredients.  The Holiday Maple Cutout Cookies were my first success with this new flour and it's only gotten better since then.  Monday I hosted a meeting for Community Pie, a local volunteer organization to which I belong.  I wanted to provide coffee and muffins though I knew I was dealing with a few different permutations of limited diets as our group includes a vegan (consumes no animal products...but she allows honey) as well as someone with Crohn's (can't have grains, any sugar--except honey, no baking powder), and myself (no gluten, eggs, dairy, etc.)  So what could I make that would suit the majority?  Though it took some thinking, I managed to adapt this muffin recipe to fit everyone's needs.

Cinnamon Apple Muffins
Makes 10 muffins

Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook  by Elana Amsterdam.  They were fluffy and delicious way beyond my expectations.  

2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 c. acorn meal (or other nut meal)
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. flaxmeal diluted with 2 T. water
1/4 c. grapeseed oil
1/2 c. raw honey
1 T. vanilla extract
2 medium apples, cored and finely diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. and prepare a muffin pan with either oil, paper liners, or silicone liners (which I prefer b/c they're reusable and make for easy cleanup.)  In a food processor, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, acorn meal, cinnamon, flaxmeal, and water.  Pulse to combine.  In a small bowl, combine oil, honey, and vanilla.  Add to processor and pulse until combined.  Transfer to a bowl and mix in apples by hand.  Portion into muffin cups and bake for 30-35 min.  Let cool and enjoy (I like to serve with homemade apple butter.)

My second success with almond flour were some chocolate chip cookies.  It was Oscar night, one of my guilty pleasures for the year, and Ben requested--in a sweet, quiet voice--"do you think you could make some chocolate chip cookies?"  Certainly.  So I whipped up a batch of regular CCC for him and then made a special batch for myself, which turned out to be a great idea b/c I do not want to share ANY of these.

Tropical Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 10-12 medium cookies

Adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.  Because of limited ingredients I used 1/4 c. coconut oil and 1/4 c. safflower oil.  With the cashews and coconut, these taste like they contain expensive macadamia nuts.  I could eat them all day, though Vera didn't like them (probably the nuts).  Good, more for me!  
Take a photo before they're gone!

2 1/2 c. blanched almond flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 c. melted coconut oil, melted over very low heat
1/2 c. raw honey
1 T. vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar)
1/2 c. vegan, soy-free chocolate chip cookies (I recommend Enjoy Life brand)
1/2 c. cashews, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda.  In a medium bowl, combine the coconut oil, honey, and vanilla.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  Fold in the chocolate, cashews, and coconut.  Scoop the dough by 1/4 c. portions onto the cookie sheets and press down slightly. Bake 7-12 min. (smaller cookies will bake more quickly), until lightly golden.  (I like to slightly underbake all my cookies so that when they cool they are still soft.)  Let the cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.  Do your best to share with family and friends.

I have found a reasonably priced bulk almond flour online, but have also been making a little of my own at home from the by-product of my weekly almond milk making.  After I pour off the milk, I'm left with a wet almondy paste that includes the skins b/c I don't use blanched almonds for this process.  I saved up all of this paste in the freezer then when I accumulated a reasonable amount I spread it onto the fruit leather trays of my dehydrator and dried it for the good part of a day.  When it was thoroughly desiccated I ground it further in a spice grinder and added it to the commercial blanched almond flour I keep in the fridge.  The homemade flour is a bit drier, finer, and contains almond skin particles, but when combined with the blanched variety it makes a fine complement.  Plus it gets me a little further without having to order more and creates no waste from the almond milk making process.

This week was fairly prolific in terms of developing new recipes--again, it's my menu planning ahead that really helps.  Sunday night before the big awards show we enjoyed a hearty winter meal using some of our homemade sausage and more of the cellared winter squash that are keeping well in the basement.

Sausage and Herb Polenta with Winter Squash
Serves 6

4 c. cold water, divided
1 c. stone ground polenta (I subbed as much as 1/4 c. local blue cornmeal)
2 t. salt (or more to taste)
1 T. dried oregano
2 t. dried basil
2 T. ghee

2 T. grapeseed oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage
2 c. peeled, cubed, steamed winter squash
1 T. ghee
salt and pepper, to taste
2 T. white balsamic vinegar

For Polenta:
In  medium saucepan, bring 3 c. cold water to a boil.  In a small bowl, mix cornmeal, salt, herbs, and remaining 1 c. cold water.  Add cornmeal mix to boiling water, lower heat to low or until mixture stays at moderate boil.  Stir occasionally for 15-20 min.  Polenta will thicken and begin to leave the sides of the pan.  Stir in ghee, additional seasoning and place on a round dish making a well in the center for the sausage.  Keep warm.

For Sausage:
Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the onion and celery over medium heat until tender, a couple of minutes.  Add sausage and cook thoroughly.  Add steamed squash and ghee and mix to combine.  Place in the center of the polenta on serving plate.  Drizzle the balsamic over the top.  Serve immediately.

And this week's Monday Soup Night feature:

Winter Squash and White Bean Soup
Serves 8

5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. grapeseed oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 c. pickled ramps, chopped (or just use more onion, or sub. leeks)
1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock (plus more to for desired consistency)
2 lbs. peeled, cubed winter squash (or leftover squash puree, carrots, sweet potatoes, whatever you have)
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried thyme
2 fresh sage leaves
2 c. dried, soaked, cooked white beans, drained
1/4 dry sherry
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
salt, to taste
1/4 c. coconut milk

Heat the oil in a large soup pot.  Saute garlic, onion, ramps until tender.  Add stock and squash.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and add herbs.  Simmer over medium-low heat until the squash is tender, about 20-30 min.  Add half the white beans to the squash mixture.  In batches puree the soup mixture in a blender until smooth.  Return to the soup pot and add the remaining beans, sherry, additional stock, and coconut milk.  Heat through.  Season to taste.

I've continued on my mission to make homemade granola weekly and I think I've finally found my go-to recipe, which is a surprise since I don't have too many go-to recipes--I like to experiment too much.  Again, using what I have on hand, I subbed duck fat (gasp!) for the butter.  I've had a pint of rendered duck fat in my basement freezer for a couple of years and pulled it out last week to find that it had preserved beautifully.  I shan't tell any of my restaurant co-workers about this because they'll curse me for not making duck confit or something more elegant--though I still have plenty of the fat left that I could do so.  I fear the "beating" would be worse than when I described to them how I use pork shoulder to make my annual batch of sausage.  They just about attacked and told me I shouldn't waste such a lovely cut on sausagemaking, but instead use pork scraps (which I don't happen to have laying around at any given time.)  Such is life.  I decided that I wanted to put something really great into my granola and I did.

Gourmet Granola
Makes 8 c.

Adapted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (who I'm sure never intended for this recipe to be adapted as such.)

3 1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. sesame or chia seeds
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. chopped raw cashews (or almonds)
1/2 c. chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. duck fat (or butter, or coconut oil)
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. sorghum syrup
1 T. peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, seeds, cashews, pecans, cinnamon, and salt; mix well.  In a small pan melt "fat," add maple syrup, sorghum, and nut butter and stir to blend. Remove from heat and add extracts.  Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients, using a spatula to fold and evenly coat the dry mixture with the wet.  Spread on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat and bake until golden and dry (about 30-45 min.), turning every 15-20 min. so that it toasts evenly.  Store in an airtight jar.

The political conversations have continued this week and I've developed some new ideas about the future of education.  There was a conversation about homeschooling developing on Facebook and someone asked that if that's the route we choose, how do we teach our kids trigonometry, calculus, foreign languages.  A day or so later I finally had a chance to read the TIME magazine article about Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, and her strict and controversial parenting method. She mentioned the need to help her daughters compete in the face of globalization, especially as the Chinese are quickly gaining on us in terms of education and economy.  Both of those ideas--teaching homeschooled children all the "important" school subjects and pushing our children to achieve achieve achieve got me thinking (or rethinking b/c I feel like my brain has touched this topic before).  First, I believe that the global economy as it stands (higher production, increased use of natural resources, growing human consumption...all in the face of a peak oil crisis) is not sustainable.  Why does the focus have to be on seeing who can be the biggest, smartest, fastest, strongest? What about teaching our children to work with their hands so they can provide for and nourish themselves and their families in different ways (or teach them other "survival skills" and lost arts)?  What about teaching them to be moral, contributing citizens in society?  What about teaching them about conservation especially when it comes to fuel, water, and land?  I have moved The Race to Nowhere up my Netflix queue within the last week because I want to hear more on this topic that's come to mind.  This is just me philosophizing.  I'd love to hear your ideas as well.

image courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation
Coincidentally, we attended the Milwaukee Premiere of Green Fire last night at the IMAX Theatre.  Even before visiting the new Platinum LEED Certified Aldo Leopold Center in Baraboo and reading A Sand County Almanac, Ben and I were inspired by this contemporary conservationist.  After visiting the family shack I was even more inspired by how much happiness this family of seven found with so few resources and by how incredibly involved and in love they all were with nature.  Of course, there's so much more to the story than that, but it would be a whole different post.  I do recommend checking out the film, the book of essays, the center, and the shack if you ever get the chance.  This man was truly ahead of his time.

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