Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health

Archive for December, 2009

ALMONDS + SEASONINGS = PARMESAN????

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on December 23, 2009

The versatility of almonds never fails to amaze me. In this recipe for an imitation Parmesan, the almonds become the grounding ingredient that gives the seasonings the ideal base to cling to.

The recipe came from a moment of frustration at the natural food market. Whole Foods dared to be out of the vegan Parmesan I had been using for several years. I was making Cioppino, a plant-based version of Italian fisherman’s stew, and needed the Parmesan for the finishing touch. What on earth was I going to do? That &!*#@!!! market is the only natural food store within reasonable driving distance.

Well, I grabbed my thinking cap—thank goodness it’s always within close proximity—and chose almonds for the base of my Parmesan adventure. Within minutes and a little sprinkle of this and that, an imitation Parmesan was born. It’s a great keeper, too. I’ve kept the Parmesan in a covered plastic container for up to 3 months and still found it just as tasty as the day it was made.

It’s super easy. Give it a try and you’ll even benefit from the power of almonds to bring you good health. As little as an ounce a day helps to lower cholesterol, especially when used in place of foods containing saturated fat. That single little ounce can help to lower the risk of coronary artery disease, sudden heart attack, diabetes, gallstones, and some cancers.

I thought if I could create my own imitation Parmesan, I could easily whip up a batch in the food processor and keep it on hand at all times. This recipe couldn’t be easier and tastes enough like the real thing to put the Italian touch on everything from pizza to minestrone.

Enjoy!

HOMEMADE VEGAN PARMESAN

Yield: about 1 1/4 cups

1 cup whole almonds

1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Place the almonds into the food processor and pulse and process until they become a finely ground meal. Be careful not to over-process or the meal may become almond butter.
2. Add the nutritional yeast flakes, onion powder, sea salt, and garlic powder and pulse until well blended. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. Refrigerated, the Homemade Vegan Parmesan will keep for up to 3 months.

Posted in almonds, Nut Nutrition, Nut Recipes, Nuts and Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

ALL’S WELL ON THE PLANET HAZELNUT

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on December 14, 2009

Fortunately, I did not have to travel far to reach my destination. Planet Hazelnut, in case I hadn’t explained, is where the nuts are so robust and bountiful and irresistibly rich with compelling flavor I’m driven mad with anticipation. I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into those little darlings! Planet Hazelnut is where the sweet aroma of roasting hazelnuts sends such captivating drifts of fragrance into the air I can barely contain my well-trained good manners waiting for them to cool. Oh, so sorry! I just realized I had neglected to provide the geographical location of Planet Hazelnut so you could indulge each of your sensory receptors as I have. Planet Hazelnut is actually rather close by.

It’s in my kitchen and yours, too!

Playing Favorites?
By now you’ve probably figured out I’m a doting hazelnut enthusiast, as well as a lover of all kinds of nuts. People often ask what my favorite nut is, but how can I possibly choose one. It would be like asking which of my four children is my favorite. The honest to goodness truth is I adore them all—my children and my nuts! But hazelnuts sit on a special pedestal in my heart.

Because I’m admittedly fickle, I do have temporary love encounters with one nut or other at any given time; and my heart just might flit to another nut at the mere sight of it.

Yesterday, I was enchanted with HAZELNUTS, those precious little sweethearts—so round—so sweet—and so richly endowed with flavor.

While my usual preference is raw hazelnuts with their gifted fresh, natural sweetness and pleasing chewy texture, I do adore them roasted. Roasting changes them so dramatically I think of hazelnuts as having split personalities. Roasted, they literally charm my willing taste buds like a sorcerer working his wizardry. Their crisp crunch is instantly appealing, their flavor heightened and enhanced with assertive earthen headiness.

Blanching Hazelnuts
Taking full advantage of their alluring nature, I placed a hefty quantity of hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and tucked it into the oven at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. I wanted to prepare them for a unique dessert I had in mind for an after-theater dessert party. When I checked them after 15 minutes, I noticed their skins were beginning to split apart. That was my signal to take them out of the oven. Then, I blanched them by placing them on a double layer of kitchen towels. I wrapped them completely and allowed them to sweat for 10 minutes.

Next, I rubbed them vigorously in the towels to coax their skins off. Some were more willing than others, but the few that still clung protectively to their skins were not going to pose any problem to the finished pie I was planning. Finally, I placed the roasted, blanched hazelnuts into a heavy-duty plastic bag, positioned it on a firm cutting board, and whacked them into coarse pieces with a hammer I keep handy in my kitchen for such tasks. The chopped hazelnuts were now ready to join a host of delicious fruits in a tantalizing pie with a divinely chewy nougat texture.

The novel pie, I admit with unabashed immodesty, was ragingly delicious. Those roasted, blanched hazelnuts made the pie stand out from others by adding the defining element of crunchy nuance that most pies lack.

I simply couldn’t wait to share this wonderful dessert with all who adore hazelnuts. I trust you’ll savor it to the last crunchy tidbit.

Any time you blend dried fruits with hazelnuts, you’ve introduced the basic elements of an exceptional sweet treat. By combining the merry makings of four different fruits with crunchy, roasted, chunky hazelnuts and pecans, spicing them up, binding them with a magical medley of sweeteners, and voila!—you’ve created a stunning pie for the Christmas holiday! Because the pleasantly chewy texture of the pie is reminiscent of nougat, be sure to use a firm, serrated knife to cut into servings. It’s the perfect make-ahead dessert that keeps well in the refrigerator for up to five days. This is one dessert that’s a dinner host’s dream because there’s no last minute fuss.

FRUITY HAZELNUT STICKY PIE

Yield: 8 servings

1 unbaked 9-inch Flaxseed Pie Crust (below)

1 1/2 cups raw hazelnuts
3/4 cup raw pecans

1 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup tapioca flour

1 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup chopped dates
2/3 cup diced dried Turkish apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon orange or lemon zest, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon maple extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast them for 15 to 18 minutes. While the hazelnuts are roasting, place one kitchen towel over the other and place the towels on the counter near the oven. Pour the roasted hazelnuts onto the kitchen towels, fold the towels over to enclose the nuts completely, and allow the nuts to sweat for about 10 minutes. Remove the dark skins from the hazelnuts by rubbing them vigorously in the towels for about 3 or 4 minutes. This process is called blanching. Place the blanched hazelnuts into a heavy-duty plastic bag, position it on a firm counter or cutting board, and use a hammer to break the nuts into coarse pieces. Transfer the nuts to a large bowl.
2. When the hazelnuts are out of the oven, raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast the pecans for about 8 minutes. Remove them to a dish to cool completely and set aside. When cool, break them into pieces and add to the roasted hazelnuts.
3. While the nuts are roasting, combine the brown rice syrup, organic sugar, and maple syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the tapioca flour and stir well with a wooden spoon until the flour is completely incorporated. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the tapioca flour to absorb some of the moisture. Boil for 5 minutes over medium heat, and then set aside.
4. Add the raisins, dates, apricots, cranberries, cinnamon, orange zest, and salt to the bowl with the nuts and toss well to distribute the ingredients evenly.
5. Add the lime juice, and maple extract to the boiled brown rice syrup mixture and mix well. Add the boiled mixture to the fruits and nuts and mix well to thoroughly coat all the ingredients. The mixture will be very thick and sticky.
6. Spoon the sticky mixture into the prepared pie crust and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside for 4 to 6 hours to cool. To store, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring the pie to room temperature before serving.

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Easy No-Fail Pie Crust
Pastry making has been such a challenge for me that for years I tended to avoid making pies at all. That is, until I came up with a few pie dough recipes I could consider friendly to the most timid of bakers. This easy pie dough is impossible to kill. Just toss the ingredients into the food processor and use your fingers to spread it into the pie pan. It’s that easy.

To pre-bake the crust for an uncooked filling, spread the dough into the pie pan and cover the dough with aluminum foil, shiny side down. Weight the foil down with a 1/2-inch thick layer of dried beans and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. The process is called blind baking. Remove the beans and allow the crust to stand about 20 minutes to cool before adding the filling. In my effort to be wisely frugal, I rely on beans I keep in the cupboard for this purpose. They can be used over and over.

FLAXSEED PIE CRUST

Yield: 1 9-inch pie crust

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons organic sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup organic canola oil
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

1. Combine the whole-wheat pastry flour, flaxseed meal, and salt in the food processor and process to distribute the dry ingredients evenly.
2. Add the canola oil and water and pulse and process until well combined and the mixture forms (a) dough that holds together.
3. Spoon the dough into a 9-inch pie pan and use your fingers to spread the dough evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan.
4. Fill the crust with the desired ingredients and bake 350 degrees until done.

Note:
For a savory pie or if you are eliminating sugar from your diet, omit the sugar completely. For a sweeter crust, add 2 to 3 additional tablespoons of organic sugar or brown sugar.

Posted in Blanching Hazelnuts, hazelnuts, Nut Desserts, Nut Recipes, Vegan Desserts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

NUTCRACKER SWEET—MY KIND OF NUTTY BALLET

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on December 2, 2009

As autumn approaches each year, I get a little antsy for freshly harvested nuts in the shell to reach the grocery store. This year’s fresh crop has arrived and is well worth the wait! Showing off their glorious colors, fresh nuts are noticeably more delicious—they’re sweeter, more moist, and have a distinctly fresh flavor. Don’t get me wrong; the nuts from last year’s crop are still great and have been stored with care to preserve them. It’s just that the fresh ones pop with flavor that compels me to keep reaching for another and another.

If you’re not a nut like me, you may not have noticed them yet—beautiful walnuts in their plump wrinkly shells that remind me of brains, almonds in their pitted golden shells with raggedy edges, pecans enclosed in deep red shells that look as if they’d been dyed, little round sable-colored hazelnuts that have a sort of musical sound when they clink together, and Brazil nuts with their large exotic-looking triangular chocolate brown shells that are a challenge to crack.

Sometimes I find bulk nuts piled into individual bins in the produce section, one bin for the walnuts, another for the almonds. But in recent years I found the nuts attractively packaged in three to five-pound mesh bags as a stunning, colorful mixture. I take them home and empty them into a sturdy woven basket with a strong handle. I call it my nut basket because I’ve outfitted it with the wildest selection of nutcrackers you’ve ever seen.

Friends who know I’m deeply into nuts have contributed an amazing array of nutcrackers to my collection that seems to joyfully multiply each year. There’s a special one that cracks walnuts with one squeeze and another that’s made for cracking macadamias. I have three very old nutcrackers that operate on the vice principle—no, those nutcrackers don’t do surgery on anyone—not even the Vice Principal—I was actually referring to the ones that simply work like vices where I place a nut between two metal parts and turn a crank to tighten the space between. Those three nutcracker vices are true antiques, rusted to perfection, wearing their 109 years with elegant dignity, and still working stalwartly.

I also buy bulk nuts already shelled for serious baking, but there’s something deeply bonding about sitting at the table with friends and placing the nut basket between us. It doesn’t take long before the ballet begins—the nut-cracking ballet, that is. You know, it’s the Nutcracker Sweet, and is it ever sweet. Pretty soon, there’s a giant pile of nut shells on the table, and still we reach for another nut, and then, another.

Nuts have a special way of bringing friends closer. They seem to invite sharing, not only the nuts themselves, but I’m often surprised at the conversations that flow after the first few nuts have been opened and tasted. Because of these opportunities, I’ve come to equate nuts with friendship.

During this holiday season, play the Nutcracker Sweet, enjoy good friends, and keep the nut basket handy. Now, I really must go—my pistachios are calling!

Posted in almonds, Brazil nuts, Cracking and Peeling Nuts, hazelnuts, Macadamias, Nut Oddities, pecans, pistachios, walnuts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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