1/26/15

Whipped Coconut Cream

Whipped Coconut Cream on top of my homemade Pumpkin Bread Pudding (a future recipe post)

My friend Diane asked that I post this recipe after I served it on pumpkin bread at a gathering of gardening friends last week. I first made this recipe last Thanksgiving, to go on top of a peanut-chocolate pie (recipe in a future post) I was bringing to our hosts. We had a 3-hour drive and I knew "real" whipped cream would not be a good option... I couldn't whip it fresh on-site at a house I'd never been to (filled with loads of people I'd never met!), and if I made it ahead it would have lost its volume in transit. So I decided to try a variation of a coconut whipped topping recipe I had copied off the internet. I got many compliments, no complaints, and didn't find any reason to reveal its unconventional ingredients. I dubbed it a winner!

I love this non-dairy alternative to traditional Whipped Cream for several reasons:
  • I always have the ingredients on hand
  • It's very fast and easy to make
  • Doesn't separate even if mixed days ahead
  • Travels well
  • Can be made with simple hand-mixing; a mixer is not essential
  • It's thick and rich, so you don't need to use much for each serving
  • Cholesterol-free
  • I can control what goes in it (ReadyWhip and other creams have ingredients I don't like)
  • All-natural ingredients (unlike other non-dairy whipped toppings)
  • Sweetening with stevia creates a sugar-free topping
  • This is delicious!
 Whipped Coconut Cream
(makes about 10-12 servings)
(items in red type are detailed on the Ingredients page) 

INGREDIENTS
1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated (I use Thai Kitchen brand)
vanilla stevia* to taste

Optional Ingredients: Other flavored extracts (like almond or peppermint), cocoa or carob powder, citrus peel, cinnamon or other spices

DIRECTIONS
I keep one unopened can of coconut milk in the refrigerator all the time, UPSIDE-DOWN so it will be cold whenever I am ready to make this. Cooling helps make the thick creamy part separate from the watery liquid. Open the can at the top and scoop the thick white cream into a small bowl. To catch all the thick cream, you can scoop the last of it with a spatula, pouring the watery liquid through a strainer to catch any remaining thick cream. Save the watery liquid to use in smoothes or other recipes.

Use a hand whisk to mix in the vanilla stevia. If you don't want to use vanilla stevia, add 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 T of honey or maple syrup or agave nectar. Alternately, you can beat the cream with a hand- or standup-mixer to make it more airy and light. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This mixes up so firm and thick that you can pipe it for a more decorative look, decorating a cake top with it in place of frosting. Or just plop it by the spoonful on top of a slice of pie, sweet bread, pudding, fresh fruit, or whatever suits your fancy. If left in the refrigerator, it might thicken, but just stir it up again when ready to use. Keeps for up to a week in the fridge, if it lasts that long at your house! Let me know how you use this recipe.

* I make my own vanilla stevia. I harvest organic stevia leaves and flowers from my summer garden and pack them in a jar, covered with vodka of the highest proof I can find affordably. After 4-6 weeks, I strain the plant materials out and discard them in my compost, and put the extract into a jar. I add several pieces of vanilla bean, (some I have already used to make vanilla extract!) and leave them in the jar with the stevia extract indefinitely. You can purchase vanilla stevia liquid extract also. Since there is no consistency to the sweetness of stevia extracts, taste as you add very small amounts - it is powerful.

1/13/15

Introducing the Recipe Guide

Now you can quickly find recipes on my blog. There's still a list of labels in the right column, but the food posts are sometimes hard to find among all the gardening info. Now I've made locating recipes even easier by linking to all my recipe posts in a special new Favorite Recipes index.

Once on the blog, just click on "Favorite Recipes" at the very top of the home page. My recipes are categorized to make it easy to browse. There are Appetizers, Breakfast Foods, Salads & Dressings, Entrees, Vegetable Dishes, Desserts, and seven other sections. Many recipes are naturally gluten-free, but those with specific gluten-free ingredients are listed also, in the last category.

Have fun!

1/7/15

Spinach Salad with Fruit

I adapted this salad and its dressing from one served by my friend LoLo:
  • 5 oz fresh spinach, washed and dried
  • 1 orange, peeled and cut in small pieces
  • 1 c fresh raspberries or sliced fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 c chopped nuts
  • 1/2 c crumbled feta cheese
  • Judy's Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing
Layer in bowl: spinach, fruit, nuts & feta. When ready to serve, add desired amount of dressing, toss, and serve.

Winter Protection

Winter in Tennessee… yesterday was sunny, calm, and a comfortable high of 45 degrees. But the temperature has been dropping steadily since then, with a forecast of 1°F by midnight tonight, with possible flurries. BRRRRR.

In the fall, I dug up and potted some of my favorite and most tender perennials to ensure I'd have them for my garden when the weather warms again. In my south facing basement window are aloe vera, chocolate mint, lemon grass, bay leaf, and stevia. I have a small winter vegetable plot going at the front of my recently re-fortified vegetable garden, with patches of collards, spinach, leaf lettuce, onions, arugula, and some little seedlings of corn mache. The cold frame is planted with more spinach, and a bunch of swiss chard plants seeded next to the cold frame last year and have given me small harvests continuously.

All of these garden vegetables are described as "cold hardy," but single digit temperatures will be damaging or fatal even for these plants. To keep the low temperatures from ending my winter harvest, I went outdoors in yesterday afternoon's sunshine to protect the garden. First, I picked big bags of collards, spinach, and chard. I picked the tender young tips of pea pod plants which I know won't survive the cold - pea leaves are edible, delicate, and delicious. I rounded out my harvest of greens with big handfuls of wild chickweed, which seeds itself and grows profusely in winter, especially in the rich soil around my compost bin. Chickweed can be eaten in salads or cooked gently. It has a mild flavor which reminds me of corn on the cob. If you raise chickens, find some for them... I hear they love it.


Wild chickweed grows well all winter and it's delicious.
I wanted to insulate my veggies with layers, so I raked wheelbarrow loads of fallen leaves from the driveway drainage ditches (doubling the value of my labor) and packed them gently around the stems and over the tops of the plants. Our winter thus far has been mild and wet - proven by the 3 flowering daisies and 2" shoots of early spring daffodils which I spotted while raking. On top of the piles of leaves I spread big bedsheets (retired for garden use) and canvas tarps, anchored with rocks around all edges so the wind won't disturb the coverings. Not enough protection to keep Maggie Mae from disturbing it however; I had to go out and recover the patch of spinach today after she dragged the covering off and up the front stairs. Never a dull moment with an overgrown puppy! A fitted sheet was the perfect cover for the cold frame, which is buttoned down tightly.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of sauteed greens with spaghetti, mixed with homemade basil pesto from the freezer, toasted sunflower seeds (my substitute for pinenuts, which I can't find a source for in the US) and parmesan. Tonight I'll be making collard leaves stuffed with mixed grains and veggies, topped with tomato sauce and cheddar. Hopefully, I'll uncover the garden after the cold snap to find happy greenery continuing to feed us fresh garden produce through spring.

12/22/14

Seminole Pumpkin - A Garden Favorite!

Seed catalogs are arriving now, so it's a good time to share one of my garden favorites with you, Seminole Pumpkin. I was enticed by the Baker Creek seed catalog description "The wild squash of the Everglades… sweet flesh … productive vines … resistant to insects and disease." Squash bugs are often attracted to my organic garden, and I'd lost hopes of growing my favorite butternut squash ever again. (Note: winter squash and pumpkins are in the same vegetable family). But Seminole Pumpkin gave me new hope, and I figured a plant native to the Everglades should find happiness in my hot, humid Tennessee garden. So I ordered a package of seeds in late 2012.


Big squash plants need lots of space for their vines to spread, so I ended up only growing one Seminole Pumpkin plant in the 2013 summer garden (two are recommended, for optimal pollination). But it proved true to its description, growing strong with no damage by insects, and giving me a good harvest of about 5 big fruit, shaped much like bird house gourds. It was a lovely plant too, with large distinctive variegated leaves and huge yellow flowers (edible by the way). I enjoyed the taste just as well as butternut squash, so more good points for the pumpkin.

This past season I left the vegetable garden unplanted, as I renourished the depleted soil. Low and behold, in early summer a couple of healthy plants began to grow out of my compost bin, and I recognized the leaf as that of the Seminole Pumpkin. Evidently, some of the seeds discarded in the compost bin when I cooked the vegetable the previous fall had survived. Never one to throw away a good healthy plant (which explains why I have too many flower gardens!), I carefully dug three seedlings and planted them in the big pile of rich composted mulch from a nearby mushroom factory, which had been left from tilling some into the garden a few months previous. Wow, did they grow! A few times I gently re-directed the vines, as they spread across one of our walking trails.


By early September, ten big squashes had matured from green to tan and the skins were thick, indicating ripeness. Amazingly, I still had one Seminole Pumpkin left from the previous year, stored in our basement which maintains a year-round temperature of about 60°F... so it stores very well. I picked the ripe ten squashes and  continued to harvest individual pumpkins for several weeks. When a heavy frost threatened in mid October, I read that I should pick any remaining squashes and let them ripen indoors; these would not be as good for longterm storage as those which had ripened on the vines. So I picked about 10 more which still had some green skin. Not wanting to line them up in the living room, where the room temperature would be closer to the recommended 80 degrees for ripening, I placed these on my open shelves in front of the south-facing basement window. It took many weeks, but eventually these fruit did ripen, and tasted just as good as the others.

I also recommend Seminole Pumpkin because it is very nutritious, easy to cut, and the seeds roast up as a delicious snack. My raw harvested squashes cut very well with my best bread knife. You can roast, boil, microwave, and cook squashes in a variety of ways; I find it quick and easy to cook large batches in my pressure cooker, unpeeled. Once cooked and cooled, the pulp easily scoops out of the shell. To use fresh pumpkin in baking (especially in recipes calling for canned pumpkin), it is best to drain off the excess liquid from the pulp. After I mash the pumpkin in the food processor to make a smooth consistency, I either
  • drain the puree in a colander lined with coffee filters and discard the liquid 
  • put the puree in a container and refrigerate overnight, then pour off the liquid which separates from the pulp
This pumpkin freezes well; I measured about 3 cups of puree from each harvested squash, and stored it in zip bags which stack flat in the freezer.

If you want to grow Seminole Pumpkin, just ask me for some seeds and I'll save some I don't eat!

Also, check out these recipes which use fresh pumpkin:
Pumpkin Chai Snickerdoodles
Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
and watch for my future posts (like the yummy pumpkin cake shown here) using this nutrituous delicious vegetable!

11/28/14

Jalapeno Fudge

If you've never tried the unusual combination of chocolate and hot pepper, be open minded - it really works! I love both individually, and the combination is unusual but great tasting.

This fudge recipe itself is a winner. Unfortunately, I can't find where I copied the original recipe from, to credit it, but I've tweaked it now so I guess I can claim it. If fudge can be healthy, then this is it. Coconut oil has a long list of nutritional attributes, and unsweetened chocolate is hailed for its antioxidant value. Or am I just justifying an indulgence?!?!

As with all of my recipes, quality ingredients are suggested to attain excellent taste. The jalapeno powder used here is one I make from my own homegrown organic jalapenos, harvested only after they ripen to red. (See my instructions on this previous post.) You might get a similar product if you buy hot pepper flakes - the kind used to spice up pizza - which are actually the seeds of hot peppers. Grind these into a powder. You'll need to experiment with the amount you add to this recipe, since the "heat" may vary. Or you can contact me and I'll share my powder with you. 

In addition to the fine jalapeno powder, I've used locally harvested honey, vanilla extract I make with whole beans soaked in vodka, organic peanut butter which I grind fresh at our supermarket, and pecans from a farm in Georgia. For the unsweetened cocoa powder, I used about 1/8 cup of something called "black cocoa powder" which I bought from a store in a Mennonite community in Muddy Pond TN. As its name suggests, it is much darker in color than any cocoa powder I have ever seen, and very strong tasting. Adding just a bit imparts the intense bitter chocolate taste that I love. For the remaining cup of cocoa powder, I used Ghiradelli® unsweetened cocoa powder, which is good quality too.

Jalapeno Fudge

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 c coconut oil, melted
  • 1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c honey
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t almond extract
  • 2 t jalapeno powder
  • dash salt
  • 1/3 c peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans

INSTRUCTIONS

Grease a 9"x6" foil fudge pan with coconut oil.

Put all ingredients except the peanut butter and the pecans into a food processor. Process for two minutes. Scrap down the sides and add the peanut butter. Process again for two minutes or long enough to be certain the powders are well incorporated with the liquids. You can also do this in a standup mixer, beating to totally dissolve the powders.

Stir the chopped pecans into the mixture. It will be very liquidy. Pour it into the prepared foil pan. Set the pan in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until firm. Cut into small pieces. A plastic knife works well for this, just as I've learned to use to cut homemade brownies. Be sure to keep these refrigerated until serving, since the coconut oil softens at about 75 degrees and you'll find this fudge becomes finger-licking good if left at room temperature.

11/20/14

Judy's Hearty Granola


I posted my original granola recipe four years ago, and since then I've refined it a bit. The old version is still very good and easy, with few ingredients. But I've gradually added more nuts and seeds, and I found that maple syrup makes the mix less sticky than honey. I like the flavor - and the extra nutrients - of molasses too. Our southern version of molasses is sorghum syrup, and, after a visit to a Menonite community which specializes in sorghum production (in Muddy Pond TN), I have an ample supply of their delicacy. All this has evolved into my new granola, presented here. Still pretty simple, just a few more ingredients than the original - and more nutritious.

You can process this granola into finer crumbs in a food processor and use it as you would a graham cracker pie crust, mixing the crumbs with melted coconut oil, which will stiffen the crust when refrigerated. See how I use it in my chilled fruit pie recipe.

INGREDIENTS

6 c old fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking oats)
1 c raw unsalted sunflower seeds
1 c raw hulled pumpkin seeds
1/2 c raw sesame seeds
1 c chopped raw nuts (pecans, almonds and cashews are my favorite choices for this recipe)
1 c unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 c coconut oil, melted
1/2 c maple syrup
2 T molasses or sorghum syrup

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix the coconut oil, maple syrup, and molasses or sorghum. Spoon wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to coat the mixture evenly.

Spread the mixture in an even layer in shallow pans (I use 2 large pizza pans). Bake for 15 minutes, stirring with a spatula if the edges brown faster than the center of the pan. Rotate pans from top to bottom oven rack and bake 8-10 more minutes, until everything is toasted golden. Remove from oven. When cooled, spoon into a container with a lid to store.

You can also add grated orange peel, raisins or other dried fruit after baking. Great as a breakfast cereal with fresh fruit, and we like it sprinkled as a topping on baked fruit or yogurt.