Almond Ricotta

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Almond Ricotta is so easy to make and is a great non dairy alternative.  Almond Ricotta can sell for up to $9.00 for a 4 oz package at Whole Foods Market, but you can make it at home for a fraction of the price.  The recipe does require a high speed powerful blender and just a little planning ahead.  To create the creamy, dreamy texture of ricotta, the almonds must be soft, so an overnight soak of raw slivered blanched (skins removed) almonds is ideal. There are quick soak methods, using hot water to soften but I have always done an overnight soak. Once the soaking is done and the almonds are drained and rinsed, the blender does all of the work.  Almond Ricotta may be dotted onto a baked pizza, or used to finish pasta dishes. Once the ricotta is added then place the pizza or pasta back in the oven just to warm the ricotta. Pictured above is a Spaghetti Squash Casserole which was warmed in a sauté pan, placed in a baking dish, topped with the cold Almond Ricotta and heated just to warm in the oven.  I finished the dish with some freshly chopped basil.  Preparing nut cheese requires food safety.  I always keep my almonds in the refrigerator during the soaking process and also refrigerate after the Ricotta is made. The Ricotta is perishable so keep in refrigerated for no more than 3-4 days.

Recipe-Yields approximately 1 cup of Almond Ricotta

Time: 8 hours/overnight soak, plus 5 minutes to blend and

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of raw blanched slivered almonds
  • Spring Water for soaking and for blending (approximately 1-2 cups)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Place blanched slivered almonds in a 1 cup glass measuring cup or other container.  Pour spring water over the almonds until fully submerged with about  1-2 inches of additional water over the top of the almonds. The almonds will slightly expand when soaking.  Cover container with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.
  2. ***Very Important Step*** Make sure to drain and rinse the almonds well in a colander or strainer ***Do not use soaking liquid
  3. Place the blanched almonds in the blender with a few pinches of salt and pepper and blend on high speed with 1/4 cup of water to start and then drizzle in more water while blending until you get the consistency of ricotta. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to use.

***Blender note: a narrow base blender jar works better than a wide base jar due to the small volume of ricotta made in this recipe. I have used a wide base jar, but just have to stop and scrape down the sides a few times to get the consistency I am looking for.

 

 

The BEST Home Made Hot Cocoa

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A good cup of hot chocolate is so comforting, and I can easily spot a rich delicious tasting cup of hot chocolate.  This recipe happens to be in my top favorites of all time. Better than any coffee shop.  My favorite  hot chocolate memory was a cup that I had over 20 years ago in a café in Belgium.  This one though, definitely hits the spot and takes a strong second place.

Instant hot cocoa mix is one of those things which is now so readily available to be purchased, and some of them are quite expensive, it is shocking to see how many will doll out a lot of money to buy a good hot cocoa mix.  It makes me sad to think that many revert to store bought versions (sometimes with gums, stabilizers, preservatives, etc.)  instead of a simple and good recipe.

So my husband and I, through testing, came up with this recipe.  Sure, you can use any unsweetened cocoa powder, but for those with discerning tastes, you may not get the same depth of chocolate flavor unless you use a brand from Holland called “Droste”, pictured above.  Droste is among the best tasting quality cocoa powder, and it is worth finding.  It can be purchased at Cost Plus World Markets, Bristol Farms markets in So California, in bulk through WalMart…it may take some searching on the internet or at a specialty store but it will be worth it.  We paid between $6.99 a box at Cost Plus World Market, to $10.99 a box at Bristol Farms.  Regardless, the 8.8 oz. box makes 25 servings of hot chocolate so when you break it down, it is much less expensive than the mixes out there, but it tastes like a million bucks, super rich and chocolaty.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. unsweetened Droste Cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 Tbls Cold Water (just enough to make a paste)
  • 6-8 oz cold or warm milk (we use whole fat milk)
  • Whipped cream or marshmallows for topping, or even a drop of vanilla extract stirred in at the end (optional but recommended)

Directions:

Mix together the cocoa powder and sugar.  Add 1/2 to 1 Tbls. cold water and stir until ingredients come together to make a paste.  Add Cold or hot milk, stir and enjoy!

Simply Delicious Blueberry/Mixed Berry Muffins

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This is my go to blueberry muffin recipe. I call these muffins Simply Delicious because they are so incredibly simple to make and are really tasty, just as enjoyable if not better than most bakery versions out there. I devised this recipe years ago when I was teaching my young nieces how to bake.  I took a couple of recipe ideas, combined them, and came up with this one.  What I love about this recipe is that it is easy for anyone to make and so easily adaptable from a full fat version to a reduced fat version and even low fat. You can also customize the type of berry- frozen or fresh, and even type of sugar and level of sweetness. The reduced fat version below is what I usually make and the muffins still end up moist. The batter for these muffins mixes up in a matter of just a few minutes.  Today, we were out of white sugar and frozen blueberries so we used brown sugar and frozen mixed berries-the result was as good as ever-the brown sugar changed the color of the batter slightly but still delicious!  I did not even have any coarse sugar in the raw/demerara sugar to sprinkle on top before baking today, but we did not even miss it!  A hand or stand mixer makes these a snap to prepare.  If you don’t have one, just make sure the butter is softened first.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup blueberries or mixed berries fresh or frozen and  unthawed  ***if using frozen berries pull these out of freezer just before measuring, the more frozen the better.
  • 1 Tbls flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Demerara sugar for dusting the tops of the muffins before baking-optional

***Note: for a lower fat version,  I have cut the butter and sugar down to 1/2 cup with good results

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar and vanilla.  Add egg and beat until smooth. Mix 1 3/4 cup flour, baking soda and salt and gently mix into creamed mixture while streaming in the milk and mix until just combined and moistened.  Toss berries with 1 Tbls. of flour in a sieve/colander and discard excess flour that did not stick to berries. Place flour coated berries and ever so gently mix with a spatula to combine-you don’t want the berries to “bleed” into the batter and color it if at all possible. Use paper muffin cups or grease a 12 ct. muffin pan and fill each cup 2/3 full of batter. Sprinkle with Sugar in the Raw or Coarse Demerara sugar if desired. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, check with toothpick for doneness, when the toothpick comes out clean they are done.

 

 

 

 

 

Home Made Goat Cheese

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As soon as I read about making home made goat cheese in the “Malibu Farm Cookbook” pages 126-129, I put making goat cheese on my short list of things to do.  Previously, the thought of making goat cheese never crossed my mind, but after reading about the simple process I could not stop thinking about purchasing goat milk and making the cheese until I finally did. Only two ingredients are necessary for a very simple cheese. The process of making the cheese (and even the taste) is similar to home made fresh ricotta. The taste is quite different from a tangy creamy Chevre you will buy in a log.  This cheese is fresh, and mild and not so easily spreadable or as flavorful on day one, have a little patience and wait till the next day or so and you will be rewarded, this keeps for up to 5 days in the refrigerator if it will last that long. Pictured above is the cheese, just after taking it out of the cheesecloth spread on a toasted slice of date and walnut bread from Larder Bakery in California, and a drizzle of Bloom Organic Raw Avocado Honey from Thousand Oaks, Ca.  The cheese more easily spreadable after refrigeration the next day.  Here are the items you will need:

Makes 4 servings, recipe from Malibu Farm Cookbook pages, 126-129

  • 1 quart goat milk (unpasteurized or pasteurized NOT Ultra Pasteurized-it won’t curdle)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (not Meyer lemon-not enough acid) or distilled vinegar
  • supplies: Cheesecloth, medium to large strainer/colander, bowl, thermometer

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Directions:  Slowly heat the milk to 180-185 degrees F. over medium-high heat. Turn off heat. Stir in lemon juice of vinegar (I chose vinegar) and let sit for 10 minutes. Line a large colander or strainer with at least a 12 x 12 square of double layered cheesecloth, Place the colander over a bowl and strain the curds. Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and hang on something (I used my kitchen faucet) to drain for at least 1 1/2 hours. Scrape the cheese into a bowl and add salt or herbs to taste.

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This is very different from the Chevre you find in the market which has a lot of tang and is creamier, I think a lot of the taste difference has to do with not using any type of culture in this process.  The taste is more subtle and fresh, not as much tang and it becomes creamier with a one to two day age.  The picture above shows the cheese spread on toast immediately after making the cheese.  A day or two later the cheese spread much better when stored in the fridge.

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Viola…goat cheese!  This should keep in the fridge covered in an airtight container for 5 days.

 

 

 

Greek Quinoa Salad

Plated Greek Quinoa

Can you tell that I am just slightly obsessed with the “Malibu Farm Cookbook”?  I just made the recipe for Greek Quinoa Salad, pg. 215.  I love all of the fresh and simple flavors.  The salad is made with cooked quinoa, 365 Greek Feta from Whole Foods (1 lb for $6.99 in a plastic white sealed tub with brine-its really excellent-not too salty or strong and it cubes up beautifully ), Organic Sweet Grape Tomatoes, Persian Cucumbers, Italian Parsley, red onion, red bell pepper, Kalamata olives, lemon juice, grated garlic and a splash of olive oil and a grind of fresh black pepper. I served the salad alongside some grilled salmon and the Greek Quinoa Salad was the perfect light accompaniment.  I took several photos of the salad…just because.

Greek Quinoa Salad

One more photo…

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“Malibu Farm Cookbook” by Helene Henderson

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I could hardly wait for the “Malibu Farm Cookbook” to arrive in the mail and it has quickly become one of my favorite cookbooks. As soon as it arrived on my doorstep everything else stopped including the dinner I was just about to prepare. I just finished reading the book cover to cover and I am really inspired. Every single recipe in the book is simple yet gourmet, straightforward and yet elegant, utilizing the freshest of ingredients from Southern California. The cookbook is written by Helene Henderson, the founder of the Malibu Farm Café in Malibu, California.  I have yet to visit Malibu Farm Café but after reading this book and seeing the beautiful photography  I was practically transported to her Malibu Farm and Café. The Café was born out of Helene’s love of cooking and success with her own style of backyard catered parties. I happen to love all of the foods that Helene uses in her cooking such as potatoes, fresh herbs, goat cheese, eggs, lime, horseradish, whole grain mustard, Dijon, honey, and ingredients that are all fresh, all natural and vibrant.  This is the first cookbook I have seen that is so simple and approachable with many of the pantry ingredients most probably already staples for someone who likes to cook.  The very first recipe in the book, Frittata with Ricotta and Peas, grabbed my attention right away. Since receiving book I have prepared Swedish Mini Pancakes, Shrimp with Carrot Ginger Coconut Sauce, and Mama Tran’s Vietnamese Chicken Salad, all excellent recipes and adaptable to tasteOther recipes such as Malibu Farm Deviled Eggs, Kale Caesar, Goat Cheese, Chicken and Mustard and Bread Crumbs Three Ways, Grilled Butterfly Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish, Balsamic Skirt Steak with Chili Cherry Tomatoes, Broccoli Mashed Potatoes, are just a few of the recipes at the top of my list of recipes to try out from this book.  Helene also provides great shortcuts and tips like par boiling a whole Kabocha squash to make it easy to cut-brilliant- tips for boiling and drying potatoes for mash, the perfect method for hard boiled eggs, etc. I look forward to the day when I will visit the Malibu Farm Café, and maybe even have the opportunity to meet Helene!  I received this book from Blogging For Books through Penguin Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

To learn more about the Helene Henderson click on the following link:  http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/2135841/helene-henderson/

and for information about “Malibu Farm Cookbook” check out the following link: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/538385/malibu-farm-cookbook-by-helene-henderson/

Update:  Other recipes I have tried since receiving the book:

Greek Quinoa Salad   https://dawnielovestocook.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/greek-quinoa-salad-recipe-from-malibu-farm-cookbook-pg-215/

Mama Tran’s Vietnamese Salad  https://dawnielovestocook.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/mama-trans-vietamese-chicken-salad/

Kale Caesar    https://dawnielovestocook.wordpress.com/2016/05/07/kale-caesar/

Shrimp with Carrot-Ginger Coconut Sauce https://dawnielovestocook.wordpress.com/2016/05/07/shrimp-with-carrot-ginger-coconut-sauce/

Halibut Sandwiches with Black Olive Aioli  https://dawnielovestocook.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/halibut-sandwiches-with-black-olive-aioli/

Black Olive Aioli   https://dawnielovestocook.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/black-olive-aioli/

Comfort Food at its Best…Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops

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Today was my first attempt at making a braised lamb dish.  A sale on grass fed Lamb Shoulder Chops from New Zealand  at $2.99 lb. prompted my internet search for a good recipe.  I found a couple of recipes which looked good but each seemed to lack something, so I took what I liked from each recipe which resulted in a meal that could only be called nothing short of fabulous.  I don’t know why I have never tried braising lamb shoulder chops before, it is so easy.  The ingredients are simple but the flavor from the cooked down ingredients is intense.  The sweetness from the carrots and onions, saltiness from the celery, and subtle hints of rosemary and thyme meld perfectly with the reduced lamb juices and chicken stock  to create a delicious reduction with an intensified rich flavor.   I would imagine this recipe could easily hold its own compared to any restaurant worthy version out there.

Ingredients:

4 bone in lamb shoulder chops approximately 1/2 lb each

1 small or half of  a large sweet or yellow onion sliced to medium thickness and quartered

3-4 whole cloves of  garlic

1 large carrot diced

1 1/2 stalks of celery diced finely

2 tsp sugar

1-2 cups low sodium chicken broth (I used Saffron Road)

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried rosemary

Salt and Pepper to taste

Olive Oil

Method:

In a Dutch oven or oven safe pot with lid, heat 2 Tbls. of Olive oil.  When the pan is nice and hot enough to hear a sizzle (med-high heat) add the salt and pepper seasoned lamb chops in a single layer.  Brown on each side till you have a nice color, approximately  4-5 minutes per side or until you see a nice brown color.  After you flip the lamb chops on the first side add the three whole garlic cloves to the pot and  allow them to start caramelizing in the olive oil.  After both sides of the chops are nicely seared, remove the lamb chops and place on a plate.  Add onions, carrots and celery to the pot.  Sautee and stir the vegetables for about 7 minutes and add the two teaspoons of sugar, ground allspice, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Sautee vegetables for another 7-8 minutes  or until they are slightly caramelized from the lamb drippings and soft and starting to brown.  Add the seared lamb chops and any juices back into the pan covering the chops with the sautéed veggies and add 1 cup of chicken broth.  The chicken broth should bubble up a bit when hitting the pan, if it doesn’t, cook until you see the broth bubble up.  Place a lid on the pot and transfer to a 300 degree oven for 3 hours.  Check every hour or so.  If the broth is low or looks like it has cooked down, add 1/4-1/2 a cup to keep the lamb chops from drying out.  Serve warm and spoon over reserved liquid and veggies.  Serve with mashed potatoes or risotto.  Be ready to be transported to the ultimate comfort food zone.

Plated Braised Lamb and Risotto

The lamb chops and mushroom risotto were plated a bit abruptly without the intention for a photo shoot, but my husband kindly took a photo before consuming, so I have added the picture to my post.  I ended up cooking my lamb for 5 hours (2 1/2 hours at 300 degrees and 2 hours at 200 degrees) due to not being home, so it was fall apart tender after being served.

Really Good Breakfast Pancakes

Pancakes are a family favorite.  I can count the times on one hand when we have used a boxed mix.  Even my young son knew how to whip up a batch of home made pancakes at a very early age, 7 years old.  A posted clipping of a simple buttermilk pancake recipe on the inside of the spice cupboard door is all it took for us to get in the habit of making these from scratch.  We clipped the recipe from the SACO dried powdered buttermilk lid.  Whenever we substituted fresh buttermilk for regular milk and buttermilk powder, we just added the rest of the recipe ingredients and the pancakes turned out perfect every time.  My secret ingredient is a tablespoon or so of sour cream or ricotta mixed in with the batter, it makes them oh so melt in your mouth tender.

When you are in a big hurry, make the batter the night before and keep in the fridge.  The pancakes will be ready in minutes the next morning.  A double batch recipe will keep in our household for 2-3 days, we just pull the batter out of the fridge when we are ready to use.

Pancake Recipe

Instructions: listed first because this is an important step for really good pancakes

First: Beat all wet ingredients in a large glass measuring cup or bowl.  I love to use a 4 cup measuring glass container because it has a handle for pouring and if using butter, it can be melted first and then wet ingredients can be measured right into the glass cup.  Next gently fold into the wet mix the dry ingredients till combined and almost no lumps, do not over mix.

Ingredients for a double batch makes 16- 4 inch or 8 – 8 inch pancakes:

Wet Ingredients:

4 Tbls melted butter OR Coconut oil

2 cups buttermilk OR 2 cups milk with 1 Tbls. Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1-2 heaping Tbls of sour cream or ricotta

1 tsp salt

1 Tbls sugar

(salt and sugar can go in with wet ingredients because they dissolve into the liquid)

Dry Ingredients:

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle on medium heat for several minutes until very hot. A hot pan is always best for pancakes. Add the slightest bit of butter or oil just before putting the first pancake in if the skillet or pan is not already seasoned. Cook a couple of minutes on the first side. When you see several bubbles which have come to the surface of the pancake and have broken, it is time to turn the pancake. Cook for another 1-2 minutes and the pancake is ready to eat!

Stovetop, No Bake Peanut Butter Bars

This is my teen’s top favorite peanut butter bar recipe. This 6 ingredient, preservative free recipe, is fast, super easy to make, and yields delicious and healthy peanut butter oatmeal bars with just the right amount of sweetness.  These make the perfect lunchbox or quick treat, I make a batch of these every week.  A baking sheet lined with parchment paper can hold a single or double batch of these uncut bars.  The whole batch, baking sheet and all, can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer (I usually keep mine in the freezer).  For convenience, place a cutting tool in the pan to cut out squares or bars whenever needed.  If anything like my household, these bars will be eaten too often to keep getting a new knife each time a piece is cut.  The great thing is you can cut as big or small a piece as you are in the mood for.  Often times when I am at home a small sliver satisfy my sweet tooth.  For lunchboxes treats, I usually cut the bars into a traditional granola bar size.

Recipe

1/2 cup milk

1/2 stick butter, 4 oz. (4 TBLS)

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup natural creamy peanut butter (try to find a version with peanuts and salt only)

3 cups old fashioned oats uncooked

In a large sauce pan heat the milk, butter, and sugar till boiling and then continue to boil for two minutes, the mixture will foam a bit.  Turn off the heat.  Add the peanut butter and vanilla and stir till combined.  Add the oats and stir till just combined.  Turn onto a sheet pan and spread out to desired thickness, we usually spread out to granola bar thickness.  Freeze directly on the baking sheet or refrigerate until set, approximately 1 hour.  Cut into bars when firm and enjoy!  Bars keep well in the freezer and taste great on a hot day or when the sweet tooth hits you!

Lemongrass Drink

I was at a friend’s house and was given this drink which was so refreshing and light, I just had to know what it was. It was smooth, flavorful, cool, and downright sexy. I felt like a million bucks drinking it, and it had all of these mysterious but familiar flavors that I just could not put my finger on. I could have sworn it was some type of jasmine or green tea cooler.  When I found out it was just lemongrass, water and honey/sugar, I just had to have the recipe. The funniest part about it is there is no real complicated recipe…here it is:

3 stalks lemon grass, bottom 1 inch of root end cut off, top 2 inches on stems cut off, split lengthwise and bruised and chopped into 3 inch pieces to release the flavor. (To bruise you can smash with the edge of a knife, rolling pin or other object of choice).

Take the lemongrass pieces and add 6 -7 cups of water, boil for 30-45 minutes.

When mixture is done take off of stove and strain with a fine mesh strainer. Discard lemongrass pieces.

Add honey, sugar, or agave syrup to taste while liquid is still warm. I use 4-5 TBLS because I do not like it sweet, add to your preference.

Serve over ice and enjoy!

Note: Lemongrass has many healing properties including aiding with stomach problems, acne, fever, headache, common cold or making you feel just damn good!