Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Amazing Things You Can Do with One Pound of Almonds!

Due to dietary restrictions, I have converted to almond milk almost exclusively. Then I heard that, because of certain additives like carrageenan, store-bought almond milk is not as good for you as you might think. So, I've started making my own. This endeavor has led me to so many amazing food discoveries! Here is what I make with one pound of almonds on a regular basis:

A gallon of almond milk (3 cups of which were turned into ice cream) and 4 cups of almond meal. All this food cost me about the same as I would spend on two half-gallon cartons of almond milk from the grocery store. So, I get a big bag of almond meal for free, peace of mind knowing there are no harmful additives in any of it, plus I think it tastes way better. Beware, this can turn into a very expensive endeavor. Shop around for a good deal on the almonds. You can expect to spend $6-$8 per pound (in California). More than that and you are wasting money.

Start with one pound of raw almonds (roughly 3 cups). Pre-soak them for a day or two in 7 cups of water. When you are ready to use the almonds, drain and rinse them.

Almond Milk 

Almond milk is my favorite dairy substitute. It makes wonderful, high-protein smoothies. Its flavor works well for most cooking senarios, too. Use it as a dairy substitute in baked goods or cream-based soups and sauces. You can even use it as a buttermilk substitute by souring it with a touch of white vinegar. It won't curdle like regular milk, as it does not have any emulsifiers added, but the taste and texture are perfectly fine for cooking.

Just be careful using almond milk in recipes that call for large amounts of milk. If you are not used to the nutty flavor, you may not like the results. I find that a little extra salt helps mask the taste in most recipes.

What you need:
1 lb pre-soaked almonds
8-10 cups water
Vanilla, honey, sugar, agave nectar or other flavoring to taste

In batches, blend 2 cups of soaked almonds with 3 to 4 cups water on high for 1 minute.

You can adjust the amount of water depending on personal preference. I like mine thick, but you may prefer a thinner consistency.

Over a large bowl or measuring cup, drape several layers of fine-mesh cheesecloth. (Or invest in a nut milk bag! They run about $10 or less, and they are re-usable. Totally worth it if you plan on doing this often!)

Carefully pour the blended almonds into the cheesecloth and squeeze as much liquid out as you can manage.

Empty the leftover contents of the cheesecloth into a large bowl and set aside.

At this point, you can sweeten or flavor the milk to your liking. If you plan on using it for cooking, it is best to reserve some and keep it plain. For drinking or using on cereal, however, I like to add 1/4 tsp vanilla extract for each cup of milk. 

Once all the almonds are blended and strained, I like to pasteurize the milk to keep it from spoiling before I've had a chance to enjoy it all. To do this, pour the milk into a large saucepan and bring to a boil.

Funnel the hot milk into a clean container with a tight lid and chill immediately.

Almond Meal

Almond meal is a wonderful flour substitute for cookie recipes, as well as some breads; pancakes, quickbreads, muffins, brownies, and pie crusts are a few ideas. Just remember, in order to hold your baked goods together, you will need to add cornstarch whenever you use almond meal, or any other gluten-free flour substitute. If you are avoiding gluten in your diet, just be sure to look for gluten-free cornstarch. Even if you are not sensitive to gluten, but you are watching your carb intake, almond meal is still a great ingredient to keep stocked in your kitchen.
In addition to baked goods, I enjoy using almond meal as a breading for chicken. Just add some salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you might fancy. Dip the chicken in egg, and dredge in the almond meal. Works great baked or fried.

That one pound of raw almonds, blended and strained, makes about four cups of meal.

The almond meal that is leftover after making the milk will be too wet to store and use effectively.

You will need to dehydrate it a little to make it usable. To do this, bake it in a shallow pan at 375° F for 45-60 minutes, stirring at 15 minute intervals.

Let the almond meal cool completely and store in an air-tight container. Almond meal keeps longer in the freezer, but you will need to let it thaw a little before using, as it tends to clump. Don't worry, the clumps are easily broken apart at room temperature. If it gets too lumpy, just give it a few pulses in a food processor before using it.

Check back soon for some great homemade almond ice cream recipes!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Easy DIY Rodent Hideouts

My guinea pig, Remnar, is rarely out in the open, unless he is looking for food. If he hears a bag rustling or, heaven help us, the fridge door opening, he is right there, wheeking incessantly until he gets a handout. Otherwise, he prefers to watch the world from the safety of his cage. Even when he plays, he mostly runs from cover to cover, only stopping to explore ares he deems safe.

Rodents are naturally skittish creatures. As prey animals, it makes sense that they prefer to have cover. If you own rodents, you will absolutely need to provide hideouts--areas where they can go to feel safe. Here are a couple of super easy hideout ideas.

If you have a cage with an open area, meaning it does not have a top, the simplest thing you can do is drape a blanket over the side of the cage. I used a small, no-sew fleece throw, but any blanket will do, as long as it fits over the side of your cage.

This happens to be Remnar's favorite hideout. He spends most of his time snoozing here, and it's big enough to share with his stuffed animal friends (or other piggies in the future...).

I like to tuck some of the blanket under the cage for my pet to lay on. This keeps the floor clean, and makes it easy to pick up any stray droppings.

Speaking of droppings, Remnar seems to like "doing his business" in privacy. In an attempt to potty train him, we made a privacy curtain for the corner of his cage. It has helped to keep the mess contained to mainly that corner. Although, he often takes naps there, especially when there is a lot of activity in the room. He likes being able to keep an eye on everyone while still feeling safe enough to doze off.

For this type of hideout, you need a cage with a wire top, and a high-corner litter pan. Measure the height of your cage. Add 5 inches to allow room for tying at the top and tucking on the bottom. Now measure across the front of the corner litter pan. Subtract 5 inches to allow for entrance/exit room on the sides. From a scrap of fleece, cut a triangle using these measurements.

Cut 1/2 inch off the top of the triangle, then cut a 3-inch slit straight down to form the ties. You can use the hideout as-is. Or, if your pet likes a little more visibility, cut a hole in the center of the triangle big enough for your pet to fit through with some wiggle room. Leave at least 3 inches in-tact on the top and bottom to make sure you can still secure it to the cage and pan easily enough. The nicest thing about this hideout is that it doesn't have to be perfect. Your measurements do not have to be exact, and it's okay if you cut it a little crooked. Fleece is very forgiving in that regard.

To install it, tie it to the top corner of the cage. Drape it down over the pan and tuck the bottom edge underneath. All you have to do to change the bedding is pull out the pan, dump it, refill, and tuck it back into the corner. No need to undo the ties.

Best of all, both of these hideouts are super easy to wash! When they get full of hair and other rodent by-products, just shake them out and throw them in the wash with your towels.