Monday, September 22, 2014

It's Apple Season - Dehydrate Some Apple Slices
They Make A Healthy Lunch Box Snack!

Dehydrated apple slices are easy to pack and eat.

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It's Apple Season
We picked our entire tree of Fuji apples and wanted to do something this year besides just making applesauce. (Check out my Sugar-Free Applesauce recipe.) So I pulled out my mandolin V-blade slicer (BIG MISTAKE) and started slicing and dehydrating apples.

Please Be Careful!!!
I'm usually very careful when I use sharp tools, like a vegetable slicer, but I was not using the guard for the first slice in order to get the apple to hold. Without realizing it, I sliced the bottom of my thumb - OUCH!!! I won't describe the rest, only to beg you never to use a mandolin without holding the vegetables and fruit with the guard. Better yet, throw out your mandolin and slice the apples with a knife.

If using a mandolin, ALWAYS hold the fruit and veggies
with the plastic guard.
I was scheduled for a manicure the next day
and could only have 9 nails polished.
Thankfully I still have a thumb!

Organic Apples
When making your own applesauce or dehydrated apple slices, always start with organic apples. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), apples top the list for containing the most pesticides. So if you don't have your own organically grown apple tree, make sure you purchase organic apples. 

Making Dehydrated Apple Slices
Wash and core the apples. No need to peel - Hooray!!

Place the apple slices on the non-stick sheets in your dehydrator (you can put them directly on the grating, but the grates get sticky and they are harder to wash than the non-stick sheets.

If you want "RAW" dehydrated apple slices, set the temp to 115 degrees F. Otherwise, set the temp at 135 degrees F. Dehydrate until the are dry and are no longer sticky (at least 12 hours.)

Turn the apple slices over and place directly on the grates. If you start out with the apples on the grates, you don't need to turn them.

I love my Excaliabur 5 tray dehydrator.

Continue to dehydrate the apple slices until they reach the desired texture. We like them crispy and leave them in the dehydrator for a day and a half. But if you like them pliable, you can take them out sooner. The time will vary with the thickness of the apples, the type of apples, the temperature of your dehydrator, and how crispy you want your slices.

When they reach the desired texture and dryness, shut off the dehydrator and let them cool.
Place them in a large freezer bag, seal and place in a dark, cool storage area. You can also refrigerate or freeze for longer storage times but I think out of site is out of mind. I tend to leave some on the counter and watch them disappear! They also make a nice gift for friends and neighbors.

A Great Snack
Did you ever pull out an apple in the middle of a meeting? I didn't think so. But these little jewels are easy and discrete to eat at work. And they make a great snack for the kids lunch boxes too!

But don't go overboard. It's a lot more filling to eat the entire apple than to eat a lot of dried fruit slices so just put "an apple's worth" of slices in the lunch box and enjoy!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vegan Italian Pignoli Cookies
Almond Paste - Great For Gluten Free Baking

Pignoli cookies bring back flavors from my childhood.

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Cookies from my Childhood
If you were an Italian-American kid growing up in Brooklyn, I would venture to guess that you LOVE pignoli cookies. Every good Italian bakery in Brooklyn sold them. At the end of a big holiday meal, there would be fruit, nuts, and often a box of pignoli cookies that one of the aunts or uncles had picked up at a nearby bakery. I don't remember anyone in the family ever making these treats. Why would they bother when they were so readily available?  But sadly, since I moved from New York, I haven't found a bakery that sells them. Luckily, they are pretty easy to make. Who knew?

Gluten Free Baking
Many Italian cookies, like pignoli and amaretto cookies, are made with almond paste. It's the ingredient that gives these cookies their chewy texture and intense almond flavor. Almond paste is made from blanched almonds that have been mixed with sugar. For those of you avoiding gluten, almond paste is great for making yummy gluten-free desserts. It can be found in the baking section of your local grocery store. And since there is already sugar in the almond paste, there is no need to add much more (although I've seen recipes that call for quite a bit.) Another good reason for making them yourself!

A 7 ounce tube of gluten-free almond paste.

Pine Nuts - Buy Mediterranean
Four years ago I got a condition known as "Pine Mouth." This is where you get a bitter metallic taste in your mouth 12 to 48 hours after ingesting pine nuts. A lot of people I know have had the same experience. It can last for days or weeks and makes everything you eat taste like metal. Many link this to the flood of Chinese pine nuts that have hit the market. And, in fact, the nuts that caused this problem for me were from China. 

I have banned pine nuts from my diet for the past 4 years but I've decided to give them another chance, especially because I love them so much and simply adore pignoli cookies. This time, however, I will only eat pine nuts that are grown in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy, and Portugal. They cost a lot more but if I can enjoy one of my favorite desserts and not get pine mouth, it's well worth it! (If anyone of you have experienced pine mouth from Mediterranean pine nuts, please let me know. So far I have not had any unpleasant reaction to these.)

Ingredients for pignoli cookies:
Cane sugar, almond paste, and Mediterranean pine nuts.

Silpat Baking Sheets
I love Silpat baking sheets, I won't make cookies without them. No need to grease the cookie sheet - the cookies will easily come right off of them. Look for Silpat baking sheets at your local culinary store or on Amazon. If you don't have these you can bake these cookies on parchment paper.

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Pignoli Cookies
Vegan, Gluten Free
[makes 14 cookies]
Requires a food processor such as a Cuisinart and a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking sheet

1 teaspoon ground flaxseed 
1 tablespoon water
7 ounce tube almond paste
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 cup Mediterranean pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make a flax egg white by mixing the ground flaxseed in 1 tablespoon of water. Beat with a fork until gooey and set aside. 

Slice the tube of almond paste into 1 inch slices and place in a food processor with an S-blade. 

Process until the slices are broken up. Mix the sugar and the baking powder together and add them to the almond paste. Process until the mixture looks like crumbs.

Add the flax egg and process until the mixture clumps together.

Form 14 little balls, about one scant tablespoon each, and shove each one into a bowl containing the pine nuts. You may have to gently wet your hands to get the balls a little sticky. Push the nuts into the top and bottom of each cookie until they stick. Flatten and form each one in the shape of a cookie.

 Gently place the cookies on the parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheet.

Place the cookies in the preheated oven and bake until they spread out, get a little puffy and slightly browned, about 15 to 17 minutes. They will be very soft but will firm up as they cool.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheet until they are firm enough to transfer to a wire rack, about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool on the rack and serve.

These will disappear in a flash so you might need to double the recipe.

Per cookie: 111 calories, 7 g total fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 74 mg omega-3 and 2,411 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, and 8 mg sodium.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Creamy Garden Cucumber Soup - Serve Chilled
Raw Vegan, And Gluten Free

Raw almonds make this chilled cucumber soup creamy.

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on Amazon and iTunes.

Busy Week
Sorry it's taken me so long to post this month but we've been busy harvesting 3.7 tons of organic Pinot Noir grapes in our vineyard here in Sebastopol, California. Sudden hot weather caused the sugar in the grapes to quickly spike and we had to scramble to get the grapes harvested. The sugar level dictates the percent alcohol in the wine and since we like our Pinot to be around 14% alcohol or under, we pick our grapes when they are around 24% sugar (Brix) or less. 

Friends, family, and workers came to our rescue and we got it all done in three days. My brother and his wife happened to be visiting (thinking that they were here for a relaxing vacation) only to find themselves out in the field picking grapes. They enjoyed the experience and now have a story to tell back in Charleston, South Carolina.

Check out last year's post on how we make Pinot Noir.

My brother Peter, harvesting grapes.
My sister-in-law Dianne busy at work.

Back to Cucumber Soup
Before we roped Peter and Dianne into harvesting, we did some fun things. It was Sonoma Wine Country Weekend and we took them to a fabulous wine event at Fred MacMurry's Estate that featured 200 wineries and 60 local chefs. 

One of the chefs made a delicious chilled cucumber soup. Since it was creamy I assumed it was made with dairy. (I always have to ask since I'm allergic.) But to my surprise, the cucumbers were blended with almonds (my favorite source of vitamin E). I didn't get the recipe but I have attempted to recreate the dish, especially since my garden is packed with cucumbers right now. My version is a bit thicker and instead of drizzling olive oil over the soup, I use cold-pressed hemp oil since it has more omega-3. 

Cucumbers in my garden

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Creamy Garden Cucumber Soup
Raw Vegan, Gluten Free
[makes about 2 1/4 cups - 4 small servings]
Requires a high-speed blender such as a Vitamix 

3 cups diced, peeled cucumbers with large seeds removed
1/4 cups raw almonds, soaked over night
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill plus some for garnish
1 1/4 teaspoon cold-pressed hemp oil

To prepare the cucumbers, peel and quarter lengthwise. If you have large seeds, remove them. Dice and measure 3 cups and place them in a high-speed blender.

Add the soaked almonds, lemon peel, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and dill and blend until smooth. If it's too thick, add a tablespoon of water or non-dairy milk and blend until mixed. Chill until ready to serve. 

To serve, place the soup in 4 small teacups or bowls and drizzle 1/4 teaspoon of hemp or olive oil over each bowl. Take a demitasse spoon or a toothpick and stir the oil into the soup. Garnish with a small piece of dill and serve.

Per serving: 77 calories, 6 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 170 mg omega-3 and 1,749 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 3 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, and 293 mg sodium.