Almond Milk

I’ve been experimenting with non-dairy milk alternatives recently and have made a variety of nut milks: of hazelnut, pecan, and almond, the almond has definitely been the favorite. Besides being really easy, an added benefit to making these at home is that they are free of additives, preservatives, and a large amount of packaging. Any one of these would work in the Almond Jello recipe – you will need to play with adding some sugar, as the homemade nut milk is not sweetened – most of the store-bought versions are. I would still keep the almond (or other) flavoring in the fruit syrup, but you can eliminate it from the “jello” portion of the recipe.

makes about 2.5 c milk + 1/2 c nut flour

ingredients

  • 1 c raw nuts (not a problem if the skins are still on them)
  • 3 c filtered water

method

  1. In a bowl, cover the nuts with enough cold water to cover, and soak for 10-12 h.
  2. Drain and rinse the nuts, then put in a blender with the 3 c of filtered water and blend until smooth.
  3. Strain the milk through cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel into a bowl, then squeeze the cloth to extract all the liquid you can. (If you use scented detergent and/or fabric softener, don’t use kitchen towels – you can buy cheesecloth ¬†or a “jelly bag” in the canning section of most hardware/kitchen stores. The jelly bag is great – very easy to rinse out by hand.)
  4. Pour the milk into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid – can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Use as you would cow’s milk for drinking and in baking or cooking.
  5. You can spread the pulp on a baking sheet and dry it for using as nut flour, breading, etc.
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Will the real free-range egg (yolk) please stand up?

I’m a firm believer in buying farm fresh local eggs (and other ingredients): true pastured eggs – from chickens who eat what what they can find while out scratching around in a pasture – come from happy hens, are likely to be better for us, for the environment, and for the local food economy, and they just plain taste better. For more details, see my post on eggs at Simply: Home Cooking.

For a quick, fun visual summary of some of the arguments for pastured eggs, visit Big Wheel Provision’s video, Egg Cage Match!

Asian vegetables: resource sites

Came across two interesting sites about Asian vegetables – definitely worth checking out (oddly, both claim to be a “thesaurus”). Although neither give cooking tips, there are very useful photos and a list of “also known as” given in many different languages.

From ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations): Vegetable Thesaurus

From Australia’s Deparment of Primary Industries: Access to Asian Vegetables Thesaurus

A question of cooking oil…

Gone are the days when I could have told you to get some high-quality lard and start cooking! This fat has become one of the “big bad boys” of healthful cooking and eating, but it’s also one of the most commonly used fats in rural China, where many farmers raise their own pigs and render their own lard. Camellia oil is also falling out of favor and is probably not even available here. In China, inexpensive soybean oil is making huge inroads.

In American, peanut oil is probably the best choice for cooking Chinese food, both for health reasons (the types of fats it contains) and because it has a very high smoke point (important for stirfrying!). Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don’t find it imparts any flavor to a dish. I did find a peanut/sesame oil mix that was interesting and had a very high smoke point, but did give some of its own flavor to the food. If you have peanut allergies, this certainly out, and you might want to consider refined soybean oil. [ETA: High heat safflower oil is an excellent, neutral-flavored¬†choice.]

There are enormous environmental issues surrounding the monoculture of soybeans, corn, and other crops here in the States and, more and more frequently, abroad. Canola oil has also acquired a bad name for various reasons – if you Google the words canola oil, you’ll see it’s still being hotly debated. I haven’t seen much about the environmental impact of producing peanut oil – any comments here?

There is a bonanza of information available on the question of which cooking oil is the best choice for health and environmental reasons: On the topic of fats and oils, I have found EatingWell to be very informative (their nutritional information is backed up the by Nutrition Department at the University of Vermont). Care2 takes on the subject from the slightly different angle of green living. dLife approaches the topic from the perspective of the diabetic and is vetted by an impressive advisory board of MDs, RDs, and more. WebMD is also useful, although I do have an aversion to adhering exclusively to what medical doctors preach – somehow the conventional medical establishment reminds me a bit too much of the agribusiness giants! Certainly some of the information out there is more suspect than other – if you research on the internet, try to stick to sites that are not affiliated with a particular producer of the product you’re looking at, and look carefully at the “About” page, which will often disclose who makes up the advisory board, etc.

Bamboo Beancurd

If you are looking to expand your tofu repertoire beyond the usual soft to firm varieties and baked or pressed beancurd, “bamboo beancurd” (also called “beancurd sticks” or fuzhu in Mandarin) is a terrific place to start. It is made by skimming the creamy film off a vat of heated soymilk, crumpling/rolling the “sheet” up, then hanging the rolls over a pole to dry. The result looks vaguely like a bamboo shoot, hence its poetic name.

Packaged, it looks like this:

This product’s most wonderful property is that the many tiny openings in the tubes suck up flavorful sauces and hold them in. As a result, it is used in many soups and vegetarian dishes, where in the hands of the great Buddhist monk-chefs it can become as flavorful as meat and also resemble meat’s texture.

The sticks will last forever (?) when stored airtight in a cool, dry place. To use, rehydrate in warm water until pliable, approximately 1 h. The places where the sticks are bent to hang may never properly rehydrate – just cut those away. Try this in Braised Celery with Bamboo Beancurd.