Got {Almond} Milk?

31 01 2011

We’ve talked about how to make peanut butter from scratch. MP900407429But what about making nut milk from scratch?

It’s easy.

It’s cheap.

And, oh, it’s good.

When 2Chili asked what I was blending now, with that unmistakable “I can’t believe you’re blending again,” tone, I told him quite simply. “Almond milk.”

And there was a pause. And then, a typical 2Chili retort. “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just buy it?”

Well, as a matter of fact, no. And it wouldn’t be as fun.

Depending on where you live, a quart of almond milk is probably around $3, give or take. For us, it’s $2.79. Making your own requires just a few ingredients and about 2 minutes.

Are you sold yet? imageI am.

There are lots of formulations for DIY almond milk out there, and this one is an adaption from Ani’s Raw Food Essentials. This formula will work for pretty much any nut milk – almond, pecan, cashew – whatever floats your boat or dunks your Oreo.

For almond milk, you need:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup almonds, soaked in water overnight. I made a batch with 1/2 cup, and a separate batch with 1 cup. Both worked and I couldn’t tell a significant difference in taste between the two. The 1 cup version was just a little richer.
  • 3 tablespoons honey, agave or even pure maple syrup. This is not essential if you are watching sugar, though it sure makes it good! You could scale it down, too, if you wanted a little sweet but not too much.
  • Dash of salt
  • 3-5 cups water, depending on how thick you want it. I went with 5 cups, as I am used to drinking skim milk. If you plan ahead and soak your almonds in the amount of water you intend to use, you can use the water you soaked the almonds in, as it will have all the almond “extract” in it.
  • A blender (any blender will do)

Add all the ingredients into your blender, and blend on “high” for 1-2 minutes. I blended on level “2” on the Ninja for about a minute.

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While you technically don’t have to do this step, I recommend it. Much like my little juicing experiment a while back, I felt it was necessary to strain the almond bits out of the liquid.

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After the straining, you’ll be left with nice clean almond milk. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

I am saving the “pulp” to use in oatmeal or recipes that call for almonds (after a quick taste test confirmed it still tastes like almonds). That means there is zero waste, as the plastic bag that the almonds came in went into the recycler.

As a side note, this plastic container holds 8 cups of liquid so you can get a gauge of the volume output.

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I had a glass with some freshly baked mini pretzels. Y-U-M.

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For 2Chili’s sake, here is the cost breakdown, based on 1 cup of almonds and 5 cups of water.

  • Almonds: $1.12  ($4.49 for a 4 cup package from Trader Joe’s)
  • Honey: $.42 ($4.49 for a bottle of honey with 32 tablespoons from Trader Joe’s)
  • Water: We’ll say this is free, as 3-5 cups in the scheme of your water bill is pretty insignificant
  • Total: $1.54 

So, take that, 2Chili. Almost half price and more than double the fun!

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It’s Not Clean…Until it’s Oxi Clean? How to Easily Clean Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

29 01 2011

Happy Saturday, Friends!

No links this week, but, with it being the weekend, I do have a cleaning tip for you. Somehow this post has been sitting in my drafts for a while, and magically posted itself and then unposted itself a while back. The magic of the internet and my clumsiness with dates may have had something to do with that.

Anyway…

Last year, I treated myself to a matching set of pots and pans. We had never had a full set that matched – just a hodgepodge of things we’d acquired over the years when the need arose. I wanted a grown up set of pots and pans, so I bought Cuisine Art set made of stainless steel.

And, they’re great. Except for one tiny little thing. They tend to be hard to clean if you’ve made something like eggs, sautéed onions, or anything that can turn brown and stick. I have a little trick up my sleeve I thought I’d share for those in the same boat.

If you have never tried Oxi Clean, you should! It is a fantastic cleaner in a whole bunch of different applications. Turns out it is good on pots and pans, too! I stumbled on this little bit of cleaning wisdom entirely on accident. One day, when I scooped out some Oxi Clean to add to a load of laundry, I thought, ”what if…” and as it turned out, my “what if” worked.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans in a Jiffy

This is part chemistry and part cleaning, so: Please. Be. Careful. There. You have been warned! (Bold + Underline = I’m serious!)

1. Here we have our dirty pan. It isn’t that bad as cooked on items go, but it would take some scrubbing in the sink.

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2. Fill the pan with about 1 inch of tap water, and bring to a rolling boil. The boiling alone will loosen up some of the baked on food.

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3. Carefully and slowly, pour about a tablespoon of Oxi Clean into the boiling water. Have your free hand on the temperature knob and be ready to turn down the heat if you need to.

The reaction when the Oxi Clean hits the pan is sort of a foaming action, and it will rise up a bit, depending on how much you add. Start small to get a gauge for how much you need, and add more once it resumes boiling if you need to. If you add too much initially, you’ll have your own version of one of those soda pop/Mentos volcanoes on your hands.

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4. I usually let the foam rise up to within a half inch of the rim of the pan, then turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for about 5 minutes

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5. Turn off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes or so, then wash as you normally would. For really baked on/burned pans, you may have to repeat the process.

The end result is so clean you can see my reflection in the pan!

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This works well on pots, too. In fact, I used this method just the other day to clean off burned on beans in a stock pot. I had set some pinto beans to boil, walked away, and totally forgot about them until a couple hours later. Eeek! But, the Oxi Clean worked its magic just as it always does.

I hope you enjoyed that little tip. And if you use it, remember my warning – start small and be careful so as not to end up with an Oxi Clean volcano on your stove!





Friday Favorites: Food Should Taste Good Brand

28 01 2011

We don’t eat a lot of processed food around these parts anymore. I try to make pretty much everything I can, if it is at all possible. But, there are some things that just are more convenient to buy already made. Cereal fits in this bucket, as do chips.51YDva 3jgL__SS280_

I know, I know. Health purists would balk at even mentioning chips. But, let’s keep  it real. Chips have a place even in a healthy diet, especially these chips. I just stumbled upon them one day on a trip to QFC. We never go to QFC (they’re a Kroger chain for non-Washingtonians), but, it was the day before Thanksgiving and 2Chili needed poultry spice to make his dressing, so we just popped in to the closest store while we were out and about. (By the way, have you ever read the ingredients label in poultry spice? It’s amusing – it says, quite simply, that the ingredients are “spices.”)

I tried the sweet potato tortilla chips first, and they were so good that I went looking for more, and as it turns out, Amazon Fresh carries quite a few varieties for $2.79-$3.29 a bag. That’s not bad!

And the ingredients are good. Here is the marketing lingo from the package:

  • These chips are good from the inside out
  • Certified gluten free, kosher (OU), low sodium, and have a good source of dietary fiber
  • They are all-natural with no genetically modified ingredients or anything artificial
  • Good source of dietary fiber
  • No cholesterol and no trans fat

And, here is the ingredient list for the multi-grain variety:

Stone Ground Yellow Corn, Non-hydrogenated Canola Oil, Brown Rice Flour, Flax Seeds, Turbinado Cane Sugar, Oat Fiber, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Quinoa, Soy Flour, Sea Salt.

I can usually pick any label to pieces, but, I really find this one to be perfectly fine. Oh, did I mention they’re good? They pass the 2Chili test, so not just health nuts will find them good. I have a slight flax allergy, but for some reason these chips do not set off any of the symptoms, which is a bonus!

Here is the nutrition info on the multigrain:

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If you’re looking for a healthier chip to partner with your sandwich or salsa, perhaps check these out. We always have some in our pantry!





Introducing Project: Food Budget

27 01 2011

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to comb through all our monthly expenses and make as many practical reductions as possible. After three years of home remodeling, we were kind of used to spending whatever we wanted on whatever we wanted – and that is, of course, not practical long term. With pretty aggressive early retirement goals, we need to really start focusing on smarter choices.MP900387060

We have already made some good reductions:

    • Reduced our cell phone plan to one with fewer minutes, but still plenty, saving about $50/month. We had 15,000 rollover minutes accrued – it was safe to say our plan was too big!
    • Cut our eating out at lunch habit down to only 2-3 times a week from just about every day
    • Started thinking before we spend – do we really need whatever it is?

Lastly, we’re embarking on an interesting project created by Emily over at The Reluctant Vegetarian. I should say, as the sole grocery shopper, I’m embarking on this project. If I let 2Chili shop on a regular basis we’d have a cupboard full of cereal and pistachio nuts and not much else.

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Called Project: Food Budget, the objective is to get grocery spending in order by spending $75 or less per week on groceries. As a result, I think we will waste less food, and plan a little more. We are not huge food wasters anymore; I have reined that in quite a bit by buying smarter and cooking more, but there is always room for improvement.

Every Thursday, I’ll join a group of fellow bloggers by posting our food costs for the week in progress, as well as menus and any observations. I thought about this challenge quite a bit before deciding to join it – it’s a pretty big commitment to stay under $75 in groceries per week. But, I couldn’t shake the idea from my head and decided that was a sign I needed to participate.MP900387250

Do you think you have the gumption to do it? If so, check out all the deets over here and get going!

Project: Food Budget Week 1

First, some background.

I have to say that in terms of accounting for this project, I have a pretty big helper in Amazon Fresh. I can see my total bill in my cart before I check out, unlike at traditional markets where your head has to do a pre-tally before you check out. I will have a few curve balls, in that I do go to Trader Joe’s a couple times a month for most staple items, and of course we get our CSA box every other Tuesday. I’ll be counting the produce box in full on the week it comes instead of amortizing it over two weeks. This was not a CSA week.

Okay, with that background aside, here is this week’s damage.

Goal: $75
Actual: $87.64

We are $12.63 over this first week, as I went shopping before I decided to fully commit to the project. But on the positive side, we have a very full pantry and fridge now, so we should be set up to do much better next week!

Week in Progress Menu

Monday: Leftovers from the weekend
Tuesday: Lentil Walnut Burgers with hash browns
Wednesday: Veggie Lasagna (recipe forthcoming) 
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Veggie Basket Pasta Marinara
Saturday:Chili or Panini Sandwiches, or both
Sunday: Butternut squash orzo – I have frozen squash and some rainbow chard from last week’s produce box

Where it all went:

Amazon Fresh Qty. Extended Price
Organic Valley Milk, Fat Free, Pasteurized, Gallon 1 $6.19
Broccolini Asparation, 1 Bunch (United States) 1 $3.49
Baby Carrots, Organic, 1 lb Package (United States) 1 $2.29
Fage Total All Natural Greek Strained Yogurt, 0%, 17.6 oz 1 $4.59
West Soy, Seitan, 8 oz 1 $4.29
Wilcox Cage Free Large White Eggs, 1 dozen 1 $2.89
Chiquita Bananas, 5 Count Bunch, Green (Ecuador) 1 $2.09
Libby’s Pumpkin Filling, 15 oz 2 $2.10
Tinkyada Pasta Joy Ready, Penne, Brown Rice, 16 oz 1 $3.79
Imagine Vegetable Broth, Organic, Low Sodium, 32 oz  1 $4.49
Hunt’s Tomato Paste No Salt Added, 6 oz 2 $2.58
Fiesta Lentils, 16 oz  2 $2.58
Bob’s Red Mill Rolled Oats Regular, 32 oz 1 $3.99
Bananas, Organic, 3 Count Bunch, Ripe (Mexico) 1 $1.69
Total   $47.05
     
Trader Joe’s Qty. Extended Price
Dark Roast Coffee 1 $3.99
TJ Organic Salt Free Marinara 1 $2.29
Lasagna Noodles 1 $1.99
Organic Zucchini Squash, 1.5 lbs 1 $2.99
Raw Almonds 1 $4.49
TJ Clover Honey 1 $4.49
Dried Bing Cherries 1 $3.49
Dried Blueberries 1 $5.49
Roasted Unsalted Cashews 1 $5.49
Roasted Lightly Salted Peanuts 1 $2.29
Mini 72% Dark Chocolate Bars 2 $3.58
Total   $40.58

Grand Total: $87.63

Check out these other bloggers to see how they’re doing on Project: Food Budget!





A Veggie Burger that Really Stacks Up and Sweet Potato Hash Browns

26 01 2011

I apologize in advance for subjecting you to another veggie burger only a few weeks after the last veggie burger.

Oh, but it’s worth it.

A couple weeks ago, we went to dinner at some friends’ house, and our hostess, Amy, provided a vegetarian option alongside her chicken parmesan. Unlike just about any other veggie burger I have made (and I have made a lot…I am nothing if not persistent), it held together really well. And, it resembled a burger. And, it tasted good.

Funnily enough, one of the things I was going to do to the previously tested veggie burger next time I make it is blend it all up in the food processor, hoping to help it hold together better. This recipe from Amy does just that – it’s all about the food processor, which is fast and effective.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Amy is also the provider of the inspiration for 2Chili’s favorite chicken tacos.

This week, I wanted to try making Amy’s lentil burgers, and paired it with something else I have been thinking about: sweet potato hash browns. Never heard of such a thing? Me either. Last week, Leigh over at Cheap Healthy Good posted a great how-to on making home run hash browns, and after I tried and successfully produced 2Chili-approved hash browns with her method, I decided to get adventurous and make sweet potato hash.

The hash browns are really a “no recipe” recipe – shred a sweet potato (hello, food processor!), drain/press water out (use Leigh’s method from above), scatter ‘em on a skillet with some olive oil, and cook on both sides. Add a little salt if you’re so inclined. Yum.

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Lentil Walnut Burgers

Downloadable Word Document Recipe

Original Recipe: No written source on this one as it came from my friend Amy.

Time Required:

  • 10 minutes to prepare patties
  • 1 hour to chill
  • 15 minutes to cook

Skill Level (out of 5): Plate

2Chili’s Taster Rating (out of 5): StarStarStarStar

He thought these were good, though not quite as good as the veggie burgers from a few weeks ago, but he liked how they held up better and really looked like a burger.

The Cook’s Taster Rating (out of 5): StarStarStarStar

I thought these were really easy and good, though, I am not sure the need for the walnuts. I think you could switch out the walnuts for carrots and bring the fat and calories down pretty easily.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cup cooked lentils
  • 2T cider vinegar (I was out and used rice vinegar – it worked)
  • dash of olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2c walnuts
  • 1c fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1t dry mustard
  • 1/2c bread crumbs
  • salt & pepper to taste

Method:

  • Pulse chopped onions and garlic together in a food processor until they are finely minced
  • Pulse spinach in a food processor until it is finely minced
  • Add onions, garlic, and spinach to a small skillet and sauté until soft
  • Meantime, transfer cooked lentils to the food processor bowl and add vinegar, crumbs, mustard, salt & pepper to taste, finely minced walnuts and pulse until well combined
  • Add the spinach and onion sautéed to the lentil mixture, and pulse one or two more times to combine
  • Chill for one hour
  • Form four burger patties and broil until browned on each side (this took 7 minutes per side for me)

Nutrition:

Calories: 223
Total Fat: 10.1g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 176.5mg
Carbohydrates: 25.7g
Fiber: 7.8g
Sugars: 4.2g
Protein 10g

The Verdict:

I’ll make these again, no question about it. I think I’ll switch out the walnuts for carrots next time around, though. Thanks Amy for the recipe!





Blueberry Pie Energy Bars (AKA DIY Lara Bars Part 2)

25 01 2011

I have been on a DIY Lara Bar tear for a while, necessitated by some seriously busy work days lately. They make a great on-the-go snack, especially when you’re seriously on the go.

Since I figured out how to make a reasonable Lara Bar facsimile, I haven’t found myself willing to pay for one already made. Funny how that works!

Anyway, this week, I was out of dried cherries, but had dried blueberries, so I went to work figuring out a new flavor of my “Angie Bars.” I think this is my new favorite flavor! They are pretty sweet, so if you’re watching the sugar, perhaps up the almonds and reduce the blueberries a bit. But, especially pre-run, bike, or swim, when I’m after a bit of sugar, these have really been hitting the spot.

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Blueberry Pie Energy Bars

Makes: 3 bars

Ingredients:

  • 6 medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/3 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries

Method

  • Pit and chop dates into big chunks
  • In a high speed blender or food processor, blend the almonds until they are well chopped. I blended mine to almost almond butter consistency in the Ninja, but this is not necessary.
  • Add blueberries to the blender and blend until the almonds and blueberries are well integrated, about 30 seconds to a minute
  • Add chopped dates, and blend until the mixture comes together – this took about 30 seconds for me
  • Pour mixture onto a sheet of wax paper larger than the mixture, and fold the paper over the mixture
  • Press the mixture down with your hands into a rectangular shape about 3/4 inch thick
  • Place the formed rectangle into the fridge for about 2 hours to harden up, and then cut into three equal portions
  • Store wrapped in wax paper or baggies in the refrigerator

Nutrition

Based on 3 servings.

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A Look Inside the Test Kitchen

24 01 2011

I tend to forget that when we bought our house, it was trapped in the 80s and in dire need of some TLC. It hadn’t been lived in for more than five years, and the previous owner was just using it as a second garage (really). All the blood, sweat, and tears of about three years of construction have pretty much evaporated, as we’ve been done for…I can’t remember how long. See? The pain is gone.

2Chili and I are veteran remodelers, if I don’t say so myself. We have completely gutted two houses together, and done some serious projects on a third.

Our first major remodel was a 1950s rambler that was held together with, well honestly we’re not sure how it was held together. It was kind of a miracle that the place stood for 50 years before we got to it! We moved out of a brand new house too far from our jobs, and went to work. We took the place down to studs, moved pretty much every room to make it functional, tore down a carport and did a significant addition. We slaved on it for years, and when it was done, we both had a bit of a meltdown, sold the house, moved to Park City for a winter, and then came back and signed up to do it all over again on a house almost twice as big.

Our current house was built in the late 80s, and by late 80s standards, was pretty cool when it was built. It’s a tri-level “Northwest Contemporary,” which translates to, “just a house.” But, with three levels, the cat owns the upstairs, the dog owns the basement, and the main level is neutral territory. It works!

Why do we remodel houses, anyway? Truth be told, we’re picky. A house we would like “as is” that we can afford doesn’t exist, and it’s cheaper to buy one that needs a lot of work but has potential than it is to buy one that someone thinks is nice but isn’t our taste.

When it comes to the actual remodeling, the kitchen is the most time sensitive area, and the room that a lot of people think is the most important when they’re house shopping. You can work around family spaces, bedrooms, and even bathrooms, but when the kitchen is under construction, life becomes difficult.

We re-built our kitchen in about a month of weekends, and that was a hard month. I don’t remember much, except the days were long and the bulk of it was over Thanksgiving. That year, I made Thanksgiving dinner on a hotplate, with a microwave and toaster oven in our laundry room.

While that hotplate Thanksgiving is long in the past, I thought it might be interesting to share our kitchen befores and afters with you, as well as what we’d do differently next time.

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Before
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After

Before, we had a separate cook top and wall oven, but we opted to go with a traditional range to be able to move the fridge and open up the wall between the kitchen and dining room. You can’t tell from these photos, but the cabinets had faded over the years from all the sunshine (that’s kind of a NW oxymoron, but it does get very sunny here in the summer, when all these photos were taken).

For the backsplash, we bought 12×12 slate tiles and cut them in half instead of paying for fancy tile backsplashes. 12×12 slate is pretty affordable, and by cutting them in half, we have a custom-looking backsplash. It’s all about how you think outside the box of tile!

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Before After

There was a solid wall and a pocket door between the kitchen and the dining room, which felt very closed off, especially because the kitchen really isn’t that big. We went with drawers over doors beside the dishwasher, which I would do over again in a heartbeat. Drawers are super functional. In the lower cabinets where we have doors, 2Chili built rollers, so the shelves pull out.

We also took out the weird garden window over the sink (it leaked, but we also replaced all the windows in the house, so it was a goner no matter what) and ripped down and replaced the ceiling so it is all flat now. In an odd twist, we took out all the can lighting and replaced it with ceiling mount lights and spotlights, which provides more specific lighting. The cans left the room really dark.

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Before (well, in progress) After

I forgot to take a picture of the wall with the wall oven before we started taking it apart! So, this before was taken sort of in progress, with 2Chili sitting where the oven used to be. You can also see where we took out the wall where the fridge used to be, and how the dining room used to look. As I pasted in this picture, I remembered that the original kitchen floor was hardwood. It had some water damage, so we replaced it with porcelain tile that looks like travertine – a move I would also do a again. Porcelain is so low maintenance, and even a dropped jar or plate doesn’t damage it.

Lessons Learned

This kitchen is sort of an iteration of the first kitchen we remodeled, using lessons we learned from that one to make this one better. The cabinets are pretty much identical. 2Chili built them from scratch, allowing us to spend way less than custom cabinets and still get custom cabinets. I am the painter around these parts, so it works well – he builds, I paint. We’re like a well-oiled machine…except that we’re not. He’s a cranky carpenter and I’m a cranky painter, but we get it done! I make myself scarce when the sheet goods appear, and he vanishes when the paint sprayer is out.

Building our own cabinets is the single best money saver we could do, as we spent around $3000 for all the cabinets, doors, and paint for the whole house of cabinets (three bathrooms and a laundry room included), instead of about $15-20,000 to buy them. We put that savings to work in the form of nicer appliances.

I like this kitchen a lot, but here are some lessons we have learned for our next kitchen:

  • Make sure the stainless is smudge proof! The stainless on our fridge and range is smudge proof, but not on the dishwasher. We didn’t even think about this beforehand, just assuming it was all smudge proof. The dishwasher is always smudged and smeared and it drives me absolutely batty.
  • The extra cost for solid surface counters is worth it. We were on a budget with this kitchen, and at the time, we just couldn’t justify solid surface counters. We’re good at laying tile, so we went with granite tile, which looks fine, but for someone that (now) cooks a lot, it leaves a little to be desired. I would love to have a smooth surface to roll out dough and other items.
  • Go with stained wood for the cabinets. White is timeless and classy, but it shows everything. Ev-er-y-thing. Wiping down the cabinet doors is part of my daily routine. I have already put in the request that in the next house, we go with stained wood over white painted. As the painter, I think I can arrange it…
  • Counter depth is the way to go on refrigerators. To achieve a built in look, we bought a counter depth refrigerator. They are harder to find, but, give you a way more custom, built in look.

And with that, you have seen the virtual tour of the Test Kitchen Tuesday kitchen! I hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for stopping by!