Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homemade Chocolates

I have a really good friend who can get me large amounts of cacao butter for a reasonable price, so I have been wanting to experiment with making my own naturally sweetened chocolates.  My friends, Anita and Gaby run a "bonbon" making company, called "Any's" and they are the best filled chocolate I've ever tasted!

Since we can also get really good quality cocoa powder and other forms of chocolate locally, this will just be the beginning.  Ecuador's chocolate is rated among the best in the world!

Since I don't have any fancy molds, I just used my silicon loaf and muffin pans, as you can see from the photo.

Homemade Chocolates:

180 g (6 1/3 oz.) cacao butter
150 g (5 1/3 oz.) cocoa powder
45g (1 1/2 oz.) honey
3 packets stevia powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract, or to taste -- I really like almond flavor

1.  Melt the cacao butter in a double-boiler over very low heat.  You may want to chop it up a bit before melting to speed things up and prevent overheating.  Once melted, whisk in the cocoa powder, honey, stevia and vanilla extract until fully combined.

2.  I poured half of the chocolate into the loaf pan as is.  Then I added the almond extract to the rest and divided it among 6 muffin molds.

3.  Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour to firm up.  Then remove gently and store away from heat.

These are silky smooth and a tiny bit softer than I expected once they're stored out of the fridge.  My friend says this is probably because of the honey.  You can even see my finger prints, because of the shiny surface of the molds.  They taste really good, though, and won't last long!

There are lots of health benefits from cacao butter (extracted at a low temperature of only up to 120*F) and cocoa solids.  So, this is actually a health food!  Yay!  Go ahead and google it to find out how it can benefit you.

Coconut Milk Kefir

I have really been missing my kefir and yogurt lately, so this morning I found this recipe for a quick version of coconut milk kefir.  This will be super easy for me, because I always have water kefir on hand, as we use this in our smoothies.  I have to cycle the batches every two days, since the grains are so active.

I used coconut milk that I make with dried, shredded coconut (1 cup) and 5 cups of filtered water blended for 2 minutes and then strained.

I made Finished Water Kefir, using about 1/3 cup finished water kefir and about 3 cups of coconut milk.

Here's what it looks like within an hour of mixing:

I mixed it up again.

And now I need to wait until tomorrow to see if this works...

So, after 24 hours, here's the kefir.  Looks like a science experiment, right?

After I mixed it up and poured it into a glass.
It smelled a little funny, which I think is the mix of the coconut milk fermenting and the water kefir, but didn't taste bad.  It was a little fizzy, which is normal when the water kefir continues to ferment.

If you'd like to learn a more about Water Kefir, check it out here.

I have been using the same water kefir grains for about 3 years, but they have been weakening for a while, so I bought milk kefir grains about a month ago, converted them, and now things are really active.  We can even hear the fermentation happening with a slight fizzing sound while it's working, and the grains rise and fall in the panela/egg shell/filtered water solution as we watch.  Very interesting!

I have always enjoyed the science behind food preparation, so I have lots of "experiments" happening at any given time, which I'll post as I can.

Have a beautiful day!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Egg-free Star Anise Biscotti

Tonight my husband got a craving for traditional (meaning full of gluten, sugar, eggs, and butter), old-fashioned oatmeal raisin cookies, so he baked a batch. While they were cooking, knowing that I couldn't even pick at the crumbs, I started thinking about biscotti.  Mmm, visions of crispy, chewy biscotti dipped in coffee or hot chocolate in our favorite coffee shop back home make my mouth water!

So, after a bit of research (it's hard to find a gluten-free biscotti recipe without eggs), I found this recipe, by the glutenfreegoddess.com, However, as usual, I don't have the ingredients called for, so I adapted to what I have available.  Here's what I put together:

1/2 cup amaranth flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt ( I grind mine in my Magic Bullet with the flat disk)
2 teaspoons psyllium husks
2 teaspoons freshly ground star anise
6 oz. coconut milk -- made with 6 ounces water kefir and about 1/4 cup dried coconut flakes (blend in a blender or magic bullet).  I didn't strain this, but you could if you'd like.
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon filtered water
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350*F (195*C).

2.  Whisk dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in another bowl.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix thoroughly.

3.  I used a flat cast-iron skillet, but you can use whatever sturdy flat pan you'd like.  Spread about 1 teaspoon of olive oil on the pan and then scrape and dump the dough onto it, Using wet hands, shape the dough into a longish oval.  As you can see from this photo, I cut the slices diagonally, which is traditional for biscotti.  However, I got fewer slices than originally suggested and they tended to want to fall apart in the following steps of the recipe.  So, I would suggest cutting them straight across, or making your "loaf" longer and narrower.  My pan is only 10" (25 cm) across, so this limited the length for me.

4.  Using a bread knife, slice the dough into 18-20 slices.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on your elevation (I'm at over 8,000 feet, or 2,500 meters), and your oven.

5.  Remove from oven and carefully separate the slices, laying them on their sides.  I needed to use another cast-iron skillet, too, since I ran out of room.  Bake for another 8-10 minutes, then flip over and bake again for 8-10 minutes, or until golden.

6.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  They will become more crispy as they cool.

7.  Enjoy with your favorite hot beverage!

Notes:  Since I am at elevation, and I like my biscotti to be more golden brown, I ended up toasting them for another 5 minutes in my toaster oven.  This gave them the crunch and flavor that I really miss.  The star anise has a lovely flavor and paired nicely with my hot chocolate this morning.  It also helps to cover the stronger flavor of the amaranth and quinoa flours.

Glutenfreegoddess.com recommends placing these in the freezer after the first day, so that they maintain their texture and freshness.  Since I plan to toast these before I eat them, I have no problem with this.  However, they are so good that I don't think that they will last very long.  :-)

Have fun with these, and let me know how they turn out for you.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lasagna for 50+ (Lasaña para 50+)

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted.  I know some of you have been waiting.  I actually had it all entered, including photos, saved and published it, but then the blog wasn't showing the post.  I went back to edit it, and only the introduction had saved.  I don't know what happened, but I AM rather new to this blogging thing.  So here we go again...  :-)

I forgot to take a picture until AFTER everyone had been served.  Oops!

A group of friends and I have been asked to make enough lasagna for 50+ people.  Yes, I'm a little nervous.  And, since I am the only foreigner in the group, they're all looking to me to put together the ingredient list and recipe.  Soooooo...  After researching recipes for vegetable lasagna, I've put together the following recipe:

4 disposable aluminum pans (*see notes below)

8 250-gram (9 oz.) boxes of regular lasagna noodles

For the sauce:
5 500-gram (16 oz.) jars of tomato sauce,
4 500-gram (16 oz.) jars of tomato paste mixed with enough water for a good pasta sauce consistency

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
8 large white onions, diced small
2 whole bulbs of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and crushed
4 pounds crimini or white mushrooms, washed and roughly chopped
4 large or 8 small zucchini, sliced
2-4 Tbsp ground basil, or to taste
2-3 Tbsp dried oregano, or to taste
2 Tbsp ground garlic
1 tsp dried red pepper, or to taste
Salt and black pepper, to taste

For the Filling:
9 pounds (4 kilos) ricotta cheese (the one here has the consistency of dry feta cheese, so I needed to add about 3-4 cups milk to approximate the creaminess of whipped ricotta)
12 eggs (if you are using whipped ricotta, you may only need 6 eggs)
8 pounds (3.5 kilos) mozzarella cheese shredded or thinly sliced
3 cups Parmesan cheese, finely shredded

1.  Prepare lasagna noodles according to package directions.  When al dente, drain and then add some cold water.  This will help to keep the pasta from sticking together.

2.  While the paste is cooking, prepare the sauce.  Put olive oil in one huge pot or two large ones.  When hot, add the onions and cook until translucent, stirring frequently.

3.  Add the mushrooms to the sauce pot and cook until they start releasing their liquid.  Then add the zucchini and cook until they are starting to soften.

4.  Add the crushed garlic and cook until fragrant.  Then add the spices and tomato sauce, OR tomato paste with enough liquid to thin out to the consistency of a good pasta sauce.

5.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to meld.

6.  Preheat the over to 350*F.

7.  Mix the ricotta, milk (only if needed - see note above) and eggs together until well combined.

8.  Now we are going to put the lasagna together:

9.  Ladle about 1 1/2 cups of sauce on the bottom of each pan

10.  Place one layer of noodles over the sauce.

11.  Spoon 1/3 of ricotta mixture over the noodles and spread out evenly.

12.  Sprinkle or place 1/3 of mozzarella cheese over the ricotta layer.

13.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese over the mozzarella.

14.  Ladle 1 1/2 - 2 cups of the sauce over the cheese layers.

15.  Now repeat steps 10-14 two more times, ending with the sauce layer.

16.  Sprinkle the last of the parmesan cheese over the whole thing.

17.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.

18.  To make sure that the lasagna is hot all the way through, pierce the foil and lasagna with a knife, wait a few seconds and pull it out.  Then feel the knife with your fingers.  If it's hot, it's cooked through.  You can look to see if the top is golden brown.  If it needs a few more minutes, you may remove the foil and bake for another 5-15 minutes.

We served the lasagna with garlic bread (made with butter, crushed garlic and parsley), and a warm veggie salad that someone else in our group made (so I don't have the recipe).

Notes:  We baked all four lasagnas in a large, very unevenly heated oven, so we rotated them about half-way through.  We also found that the aluminum pans were too flimsy with the weight of the lasagna, so ended up adding another aluminum pan under each loaded up pan.  This gave us a little more strength for the moving the lasagna, since they needed to then travel across town in the back of our SUV.  If you do this, please remember to put old towels down first, and then cover the pans with more old towels to keep them warm.

Here's our serving crew.  Several also made parts of the meal.

We were delighted with the results.  Another foreigner told me that this was the best vegetarian lasagna he's had his whole life!  I'm keeping in mind that he and his wife have been in South America for 2 years, so probably haven't had much Italian food, but it was still a nice compliment.  :-)

If you make this, please let me know how it turns out.  Buen provecho!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

I decided about 2 months ago to try to make my own raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, because it isn't available here.  So, using this recipe, I got a bunch of "national apples" (meaning they aren't imported from Chile), and used the peels and cores to make apple cider vinegar.  It takes a couple of months to ferment, so I just peeked at them now and then.  They looked pretty weird!

Here's the finished product:

The cloudiness is the goal, so I think I hit it right on, because this indicates that it's properly fermented and contains "the mother".

In the meantime I made applesauce in my slow cooker with the rest of the fruit with lots of cinnamon and lemon juice and a little panela and stevia.  Yum!

Well, I decide to try the vinegar yesterday, and guess what?  It's actually really good!  I'm shocked!  The timing couldn't be better, because we have an infestation of fleas right now, and they are making a meal of me.  I read that if you take raw apple cider vinegar (or give it to your pets in their food), it makes you (or your pets) unpalatable to the fleas.  Now THAT would be wonderful!  So, I'm taking a tablespoon every day to see if it makes a difference.

I have also read so many things over the years about the benefits of raw, unpasteurized ACV that I've been wanting to try it again.  So, now, for almost FREE I can make my own!  I just need to keep building up my supply of pint-sized jars or larger pitchers to use for the fermentation.

I also found some other ideas for treating the home/car for fleas.  We're still battling, but haven't lost the war yet!  It's so frustrating, though, because except for the proof of over 70 bites on me, my husband is baffled.  We haven't seen a single flea, including in the vacuum cleaner.  We've set out traps and haven't caught a single one.  I know they're there, though, because any time I pass by the living room furniture, I come away with more bites.  Well, that means "someone else" gets to do the next round of vacuuming up the salt and/or borax!  Not so bad, huh!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Grinding my own flour

I just recently bought a used Blendtec Kitchen Mill.  I am soooo excited!

While I can buy certain flours made from gluten-free grains here, they are most likely ground on the same machinery as wheat.  So, this means I need to make my own.  However, to grind grains like rice, quinoa, etc., into flour, is a tall order for most blenders, food processors, etc.  When my husband noticed that a woman was selling a used one here, I jumped out of bed, way before my normal time to get up, and email her straight away.  For those of you who know me, I don't jump out of bed.  It's more of a slow, cat-stretching crawl... and takes a while.  Well, that's how much I wanted to buy this machine!  Thankfully she contacted me right away, and let me pay her in two payments.  Such a sweetie!

So far, I've only made brown rice flour, but it did a beautiful job!  Yay!  The previous post mentioned the gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free bread that I recently made with the flour.  I am so looking forward to trying more things now that I know I can have safe GF flours to use.  I'll post more as I get to experiment with different flours and recipes.

For those of you with access to lots of GF options, be thankful.  It's not that it's good to go crazy with them, since they are usually full of quickly digested starches, but it's so nice to have the option when we get a craving for comfort food, isn't it?

Happy, healthy eating!  Or, as we say here, "Buen provecho"!

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Well, here I am finishing up another try at sardines.  After eating canned tuna my whole life, sardines are another step in fishiness for me.  The media is full of news about how high the mercury levels are in larger fish, like tuna, but how healthful small fish like sardines are -- they are very high in Omega 3s.  So, I keep trying.  :-)

However, I've found a few tricks to make them more palatable.  I can only find canned sardines in vegetable oil or in tomato sauce, and think I prefer them in oil.  Once I open the can, and drain the oil out, I gently scrape off the scales/skin under water, since this has a stronger fishy flavor to me.  Then, when combined with something tart like lime juice, pickles, or capers, the flavor is even more subdued.  Here's is the recipe that I just tried and really like:

Smashed Sardines with Avocado

I ate this on rice cakes, but will be trying to adapt the Chia and Flaxseed Loaf recipe to avoid eggs, probably tomorrow.  I do miss a nice slice of bread!  I'll post to say how it goes!

Update:  I made the Chia and flaxseed loaf a couple of days ago.  I think it makes an interesting way to eat bread.  However, here are a few notes:

I made this with my own GF flour mix made from 40% homemade brown rice flour, 30% tapioca starch and 30% white rice flour that I bought, which I think worked pretty well.  It is however, a little bland, and it best cut into thin slices and really toasted.  I think I'll try adding in quinoa or amaranth flours to give it more flavor next time.

The day that I made the bread I ate several pieces, and didn't feel very well by the evening.  I'm not sure if it is too much fiber for me (in the form of psyllium and Chia seeds), or if the white flour is contaminated with gluten, since I did not grind it myself.  So, I've been limiting myself to two thin slices a day to see if this helps.

I will be trying other bread recipes now that I can grind my own flour, and I'll post the results here.